I believe that we all suffer from this sense of not having done enough, been present enough, loved enough. Of having failed in some way. It’s not a healthy way to be in the world and yet so many of us – especially mothers – do it. All we can do is bring our best sense of who we are at the moment to any situation. So often, angst and sorrow over past grievances dominate our thoughts. I grieved for a while about my relationship with my own mother. It was not perfect, but I know that she did the very best that she could under the circumstances. I am certain my boys will also one day sit on the therapy couch and reflect on what I did or did not do for them; I’m OK with that, provided it can help them grow.
I never had a doubt about having children. We were living in England when we knew it was time to have our Ian. He was born in Manchester at Withington Hospital and I was 33. At the time I went into labor, my husband Tom was in Holland. I was in our tiny flat alone. I was six weeks early. I got down on all fours and grabbed the phone to try to reach him, but reached a Dutch Innkeeper instead. My water broke and friends rushed me to the hospital. Tom was able to get back to Manchester in eighteen hours, and two days later Ian was born. It was a difficult birth. They had to use forceps. He was brought into the world quite battered and bruised and looked like hell. I could not have him with me, but I would show his picture to everyone. “Look at my beautiful baby,” I’d say. I remember that day so precisely. (Sobbing) It’s been twenty years. I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to get choked up.
When we moved back to Michigan, it was just Ian and Tom and me. I had my own business in part-time community-based marketing/communications. Simon came along soon thereafter. We lived in a row of bungalow houses with front porches, close to the downtown, the zoo, the library, parks, and the school. I got involved in the PTA and all the kids’ stuff, the swimming, soccer and art. I loved hanging out with my boys. We spent many summers with Tom’s parents on Martha’s Vineyard. Vacation time was not about going somewhere exotic. It was about spending time with both of our families for Easter, for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and extended time during the summer.
Being the mother of boys, we used to joke that they were mine early on, and then they went over to the dark side… to hang with their father to go fishing and other “guy stuff” and I was left with the cats. One thing our family has done really well is it has allowed each of us to go off and do the things we needed to do. Tom has gone off to travel and write. I have been able to devote myself to myself and my career. My boys have enjoyed this Huck Finn kind of life, where they’ve been given free rein to explore and play and be wild and crazy with their friends. I think that the spirit of independence and play is the best gift that Tom and I have given them, supported by the urban village where we live. Even yesterday, my youngest who is about to graduate from high school, spent three hours digging a large hole in the backyard with his friends to make some sort of fort.
How have I changed because of motherhood? Certainly motherhood is a choice, and I’m different because I made that choice, just like somebody chooses to get married or not get married, to live in Africa or here. They would never know what life would have been like if they had not made that choice. There is the cliché that, with motherhood, one becomes less self-centered. A lot of the experience is about helping your most dearest become confident and comfortable in the world and make a difference. It’s about loving them in the best way that you can. But when I think of who I am, motherhood is just one slice of it. I’m a human being: a professional, a wife, a mother, a sister, a citizen, a gardener. I’m so many different things and they all work together to make up who I am.
I’m getting much more pragmatic as I get older. I’ve always been a problem solver. And as a parent you’re always trying to figure things out. Sometimes that’s not possible. You just have to have faith – not necessarily in a godly sense – that things will work out even if it’s not readily apparent how in the near term. You have to give up control over final outcomes. You can only do your best to support your children on their journey. You may never know what the arc of their lives will look like. They may peak long after you’re gone.
How do I feel about approaching the empty nest? Ian went off to college last year, and Simon leaves this fall. I’ll certainly do some boo-hooing, but an empty nest gives you the opportunity to connect with your children in better ways. When they’re gone, you’re not hounding them about their homework and chores. If their room is messy, fine, you can’t see it. It actually sets up better conversations about what they’re doing with their life and the exciting new experiences they’re having. In our case, it’s actually creating a stronger connection with our son in college. I’m also looking forward to spending more quality time and charting new adventures with my husband. So I don’t see it so much as an empty nest, but one that is going to be filled with more varied, interesting experiences for our whole family.