My biggest life changing event happened when my second child graduated from high
school. I was sitting there in the gym listening to my son give his speech as the class was readying for graduation.. It was as if I’d been struck by lightning. My children were almost grown! Therefore, - dare I say it -I must be getting old. There it was- that horrible word. It makes you cringe. You start looking for gray hairs in the mirror, cellulite anywhere, lines on your face. My gosh is that a wrinkle! All of a sudden I realized, not only was my son going off to the cold, cruel, hard world of college but-gulp- my baby girl was starting middle school. For the first time in twenty years, I would not have a child attending elementary school. This caused me to stop and realized that some things were changing forever. No more groups of boys hanging out at my house, no more groups of little girls playing dolls and no more need for their mother, who had spent more hours at work away from her family than with them at times. Guilt slapped me right across the face. “Where had the time gone?” I cried.
My son, Michael, was graduating from high school. He was at the top of his class and would be attending NC State University on scholarships. I felt that I had missed so much of his growing up because I worked so much. He had played both basketball and baseball as a youth at the recreation center. He also played soccer on the school team at the middle school and was on the tennis team at high school. He had three very special friends and this group of four boys did everything together. They rotated houses each weekend and spent the night at each others homes for close to eight years. They camped, swam, fished, and were just generally little boys enjoying life. We lived the farthest in the boonies and had woods with a creek to play in. This meant any time it called for snow they would stay at our house as they hoped to be snowed in. Now all these boys would be living in a suite on the campus of NC State. They would quickly learn to navigate the twists and turns of campus life as easily as they did our 30 acre woods. Many tears would be shed as I worried about my “boys” in the “woods” of campus life. What would they eat? Would they wear clean clothes? Get a bath every night? Have toilet paper in their bathroom? How would they survive without their Mom?
My daughter, Kelsey, was a very sociable little girl. She believed in trying all the sports and never met anyone she couldn’t get along with. There was no longer a group of little pig-tailed girls at my home playing dolls and going to birthday parties at Hickory Dickory Dock. They weren’t interested in spending the day at Maw-maw and Paw-paw’s house. They weren’t interested in going to the creek, fishing, or playing in the clubhouse in the woods. They weren’t interested in playing t-ball or basketball. Their interests had done a 180. They were interested in shopping, doing their hair and watching boys that played baseball and basketball. They took baths, sometimes as many as two a day. They spent hours on their hair and makeup, only to wash it off and start all over again. Instead of Mom painting their nails, they painted each others. They talked on the phone for hours, at the same time texting half a dozen different people.
The need of a mother who could wipe tears and put a Band-Aid on a boo-boo was a thing of the past. I wasn’t needed to pick up a friend so they could spend the night or take them to a sleep over. They could drive themselves. They didn’t ask me to pick out their clothes or fight their battles when a friend hurt their feelings. They were more than capable of buying their clothes (with expert advice from a friend). They could talk to their friends and handle misunderstandings with ease. They could make decisions of major importance on their own.
Then it hit me. They had matured to the point where they could make these decisions on their own because of the examples their father and I had set for them. A good work ethic is important in school and later on in life. This is something they had witnessed first hand from us. We attended all the ball games, PTAs, dance recitals, and family reunions. We never missed any of their school functions while still putting in many long hours at work. They could make decisions with confidence because they are confident individuals. Their father and I have allowed and encouraged them in this since they started walking.
I decided at this point in my life that after thirty years of working every day, missing the minimum of days during the birth of my children, sickness and deaths of beloved parents, that I and my children deserved my time for their last few years of school and summer vacations. Due to the loving support and hard work of my husband, we have made this happen. Time was there to spend with my son during breaks from school. Time to cook and feed him after months of fast food and pizzas consumed while studying at school. Time was spent going to
and attending football and basketball games with him and his friends. Tailgating before the football games quickly became a favorite pastime. Time was spent reading his papers and marveling at the skill that he has gained over the years. Summer has been especially wonderful as my daughter and I have enjoyed raising a new puppy or two and spending long, hot summer days in the sun. Raleigh
Another advantage being at home all the time was that I had time to can and freeze fresh vegetables from my father-in-law’s garden. Now we aren’t talking about a few piddling rows of corn or green beans. We are talking serious stuff. He used to raise tobacco (on the side) so he has the equipment and energy (by the way – he is 86 years young) to plant tobacco rows of corn, green beans and tomatoes. Just to mention a few. He plants close to two acres of vegetables every year and gives most of it away to friends and family that are too busy to have a garden. He makes it a challenge to supply me with more vegetables than I can freeze or can in a day. Many nights at three AM, I am taking that last canner off the stove and struggling to stay awake. I figure if he can plant it, pick it, and still sometimes help get it ready to go in the jars the least I can do is get it canned or put in the freezer. So what if we put up 300 jars of green beans. Next year there might not be any. I think I’ve been hearing that for a few years now. Most of my canning experience was learned from this wonderful man and it has been great having the time to match wits with him on things I have tried while canning. This is an experience that I did not have while working in an accountant's office. This has been a wonderful change in my life.
But probably the biggest change has been the opportunity to go back to school. It has taken me two years to feel that I was ready to do this. Just taking some classes in things I’m interested in has been both scary and life affirming. I’m not too old (gosh there’s that world again) to learn and experience new things. It’s exciting pulling out books that I read for knowledge as much as for enjoyment. It’s exciting sitting down at the keyboard and trying to type a paper. My words come out so fast that they just splatter across the paper. It has been a humbling experience to ask for help from my children on things from how to use a flash drive to being sure I saved this paper correctly. It will be there (wherever that is) tomorrow, won’t it?
One of the most valuable things that has happened is a deep satisfaction with life and a realization of how truly happy I am. I have had that most wonderful commodity- time. Time to spend with my friends and family! Time for me! I am deeply grateful for the time my family gives to me. My son’s first summer vacation was spent going to school abroad for the summer. But before he left he had a week to spend with us. The weekend was spent camping in our woods with his friends and allowing me the time to cook, wash clothes for him, and generally worry over him. He allowed me the time and opportunity to be his Mom and baby him and his friends one more time. Fast forward four years to this winter. He is out of college and working in
. I am sending canned vegetables back each time he comes home so that I know he isn’t eating too much fast food. Three generations of love and tradition in every jar. He tells me this is what he remembers as he opens these jars. This weekend as I sit here typing, my daughter and three of her friends are spread out in the den in sleeping bags. They will watch Moulin Rouge for the five hundredth time and consume pizza and soda as if they haven’t eaten in weeks. She hugs my neck as she comes through on a forging expedition and tells me she loves me and thanks for letting everyone stay. I finally decide to call it a night and head to bed. As I slip into the bed my husband pulls me close and snuggles back down. He’s always there to reassure me there is no cellulite, gray hair, or wrinkles. And we aren’t getting older just better. As I settle down, I realize I’ll always be needed. Not just for Band-Aids on boo-boos or for transportation or even a handout for money, but just because. That’s what Moms are for and you never get to old to be a Mom. Raleigh