Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Parents Depart?!

It all happened innocently enough. We were back home from our trip to register for classes at college. I was still giddy from being told by my wonderful daughter that she was glad we had the relationship that we did; high on knowing that we like each other outside of the whole mother-daughter thing.

In an effort to be helpful, I was perusing the college website, looking for recommendations on the best lap top, what she would need in the dorm, meal plans, etc. All those things that parents want to know so they will be sure their babies aren't lacking anything that will make college life easier. It's a pretty website, with bright colors and lots of pictures. And there I was just leisurely looking around. Not expecting to be broadsided!

"Well, while I'm looking," I thought, "I might as well go look at this "Prologue" thing and see what move in day will be like." You know.To find out things like what time we had to be there, where we were supposed to go, would we have help with the heavy stuff. Those kinds of things that you need to know to make it a smooooothh experience. "Oh look," I said to myself. "There is a whole schedule of the days goings-on. How cool! I think I'll check that out."

And that's where those hateful words were hidden in seemingly innocent text. They were in bold faced type and they practically screamed from their place on the page. "Parents Depart." Or as I read it, "Go away. You are no longer needed." Right after the "New Students Welcome Celebration" we are expected to just casually go away and leave her there. Without us. All alone in the big bad, world!

"Parents Depart," just words on a page to them. Words meant only to move the day along from one event to the other. They didn't know! When we leave that day, life as we know it will change forever! For over eighteen years, it's been the three of us. Of course, there have been other changes in our lives during that time, but it's always been the three of us facing those changes; together - under one roof! We've had our individual interests and friends and times away. But those were all transient things and we knew that when we were finished with those, we would all come together at home and be "the three of us' again.

That will all change now. There used to be such a feeling of "rightness" when she, he, I, and both cats and the dog settled in at bedtime. I knew where everyone was and that they all were safe. Hard times might come in the morning, but for that little while, all was as it should be. How can I live with a change this profound?!

But how could I hold her back? This is what life is all about. A very wise woman I know always says that you give your children wings and that you have to let them go. And she is right. "Parents Depart" so that their child can become independent and strong, using those wings to reach amazing new heights. Secure in the knowledge that she will always have a safe place to land at home.

So I will leave her there, this child that I have loved with all my heart since the day she was born. I will depart, so that she may start on the next chapter of her life's book. And in doing so, I will start on the next chapter of mine. The chapter all about the empty nest and how it, too, can be a good place to live.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


My uncle died yesterday. My mother's only brother, 2 years her junior. He was the one who rode me around on the tractor when I was a toddler. He blew up a big yellow balloon and gave it to me when I cried for the moon. He was our favorite babysitter. He was a sailor, very handsome in his Navy uniform. He traveled to lots of places and always brought us wonderful surprises from all of them. He served in Viet Nam. He taught me to sing "Do, Lord." At that time, he was bigger than life, a hero in my young eyes. I could never understand why Daddy never liked him. Daddy always thought he was mean and more than a little "off." Even before the Navy and Viet Nam.

As we all grew older and he married and became the father of four children himself, I began to see what Daddy had seen all along. He was a mean man. A bully. So full of self-righteousness that he would tolerate no way but his and he meant, by God, to have that way by whatever means he deemed necessary. He beat his wife and children. He beat his wife in front of his children. Often. He controlled their every action. Everything they did was out of fear of how he would react to it. They wouldn't even eat the last of anything in their pantry for fear he would come in and want it. Fear that he would want it. They didn't save it as loving children would save something for their loving father.

In spite of being offered safe haven at my parents house over and over again, my aunt stayed with him. Far longer than I would have. But eventually, she had had enough. When her youngest child graduated from high school, she left him. Her children gathered around her and helped her make a good life for herself. And, they managed to grow into productive, wonderful people. People who still believe in good and doing the right thing. In spite of all he had put them through when they were young, they wanted to try as adults to have some kind of relationship with him. But each attempt was disastrous. He blamed them all for the trouble he had in his life and for not coercing my aunt into coming back to him. He continued to feel justified in all that he had done to them. Somewhere in his sick mind, he thought he had been the kind of husband and father that God wanted him to be.

His abusive behavior wasn't limited to his wife and children. For years, after Daddy died and Mama remarried, he bullied her about the way she took care of Grandmama and Granddaddy. (She did an excellent job and he had no reason to complain.) He physically threatened my step-father on several occasions. After Grandmama and Granddaddy died, Mama didn't have to put up with it anymore for their sakes, so she didn't. She also severed ties with him. It's been three years since she last spoke to him.

And so, he died alone in his bed. The cleaning lady found his body yesterday morning when she came for work . He had charted the course of his life and it had ended just the way we all thought it would. I remember being very angry with him once when, as a teenager, I listened to him berate his 9 year-old son for losing a football game, promising him a beating when he got home. I was so mad I could barely breathe but before I bolted out of his car, I managed to choke out, "You know, they're going to hate you one day and you are going to deserve it." I don't know if they actually hated him or not, but of the 4 children and 7 grandchildren he had, not one of them had any kind of relationship with him. He had 3 grandchildren that he had never seen.

I find myself now wondering how I can feel no grief at all. No sorrow whatsoever that he isn't in the world anymore. No sadness for the passing of my childhood hero. I feel lots of anger toward him for the way he treated my mother and the hell he put his wife and children through. And I am still outraged at the lies he told more distant family members about my aunt and my mother. I feel like he died just like he should have - all alone. But I feel no sadness at all.

Does this make me a bad person? One with a hard heart? I know Jesus commanded us to "love one another." On occasion, I did feel pity for him and sorry that he had made his life what it was. And I never wished him harm. I hope that means that, on some level, I was able to love him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


To me, the word "jumpstart" implies a quick action. A force intended to move things along at a faster pace than they would move on their own. A course with less obstacles. And I guess that's what it was in this case. The college where my sweet daughter will begin her higher education this fall had a whole day they called "Jumpstart." A day to start the college ball rolling. A day for registering for classes, getting lots of information on college life and some initial interaction between the students.

It was also a time which (here's that word again!) jumpstarted a subtle, yet profound, change in our roles as mother and daughter. Mapquest tells me it was about a 200 mile trip which took us about 3 hours to make. It was a pleasant drive to a new place in our relationship. We went from being mother and needy teenage daughter to mother and young adult, daughter and friend.

We made the trip up the day before the actual event so that we wouldn't have to leave home so early in the morning. Neither of us are really morning people and we probably wouldn't have talked much during the ride if we had made it a one-day trip. In fact, one of us would probably have slept the whole way!

As it was, we left in the late afternoon, just the right time to run smack-dab into Charlotte rush-hour traffic. In spite of the tense driving, we were able to talk. And talk. And talk. When we had finally gotten off the interstate and were getting close to our destination, she said the words to me that I will treasure for the rest of my life. She looked at me and told me she was getting ready to have a "mini-mushy moment" and said, "I am so glad that we have the relationship that we have. So many of my friends don't have that." Well, my heart darn near swelled out of my chest. All those agonizing moments of second-guessing my mothering skills, all those regrets for things I should have done, all that beating myself up was gone...at least for a while.

After that, we just talked about trivial things. We even joked about sex which is something we had NEVER done before. It was trivial, but it was different. It was during these conversations that I realized my daughter had truly become my friend. She has always been my buddy, my pal-around gal. But now, she was my friend!

I knew when I saw her walk down the aisle at high school graduation, that she was no longer a child, but the ride to "Jumpstart" was truly the defining moment for me, I think. We are still very much mother and daughter, a fact that always makes me very happy. I don't know why God chose to bless me with such a wonderful child, but I am so very grateful that He did.

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