31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Kids May Move Out But The Worry Never Does

Single with Children: Parental angst never goes away

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/24/02

I remember this scene from the movie "Parenthood" and at the time I didn't quite understand it. To synopsize the scene: Jason Robards, who portrayed Steve Martin's father, was having difficulties with his 28-year-old son - the kind of fearful wringing of hands and deep angst that visits parents of children from time to time. Martin's character was listening to his father talk about experiencing the same worries and concerns for his grown son that Martin was facing with his 9-year-old son and seemed astonished that the worry doesn't cease at some point.

As though parental concern could honestly evaporate after 18 years of living with, nurturing and, most of all, loving a person who has developed through stages too numerous to count, right before your eyes! Parenting is a forever kind of thing. Our kids may not always need it, but it seems a hard habit to break.

When I first saw that movie, Katie was 6 and Justin was just 3. We all had a lot of growing up to do, and we're still doing it. I never imagined confronting the issue of my children actually growing up and moving out someday. That someday seemed about as concrete to me as the "12th of never." Very abstract. So distant as to not really exist.

My daughter moved to her first apartment three weeks ago and guess what? I discovered firsthand that "eventually" and "far off into the future" appear faster than I could possibly conceptualize. The future came knocking at my door. I had no choice but to answer it.

Katie and I sat in her room sifting through all of the things she had compiled through almost 19 years of being an "in house" resident of our family, reliving a lot of memories, and many of them were wonderful points of reminiscence. We discovered her third-grade citizenship award. An old photo of us taken on a fifth-grade field trip to the space center in Florida. A ticket to the first school dance she attended in eighth grade. The movie stub she saved from the first time she went to a movie with a boy and without a parent. I could go on, but you get the picture.

We boxed up CDs, journals, more than 100 books, plaques, awards and photographs.

She kept having to shoo her cat Sylvester out of the boxes, because he seemed intent on being moved along with everything else she owned. And why wouldn't he? He had chosen her one July evening in an El Paso shopping mall pet store. This little gray furry feline had reached his arm out to her as she bent down to check out another kitten. It was exactly one month before her 9th birthday, and he was determined to let her know she was the one he wanted to own. When she noticed his attention and returned his affection, there was little to do except buy the kitten.

There's no doubt in my mind that Sylvester knew she was moving away and that he was going to be left behind.

It is one of the first times I truly believe I knew what a cat could be feeling. Sylvester and I had a lot in common that Friday night three weeks ago. We are both crazy about the girl.

Soon, everything was securely boxed, taped and heading out for her little red Neon, sitting in its usual spot in the driveway. After the last boxes were carried out, I was sitting at the kitchen table, and Katie walked in and said with a timid smile on her face, "You know, it feels a little like I'm running away!" I asked her if I should fix a couple of peanut butter sandwiches? We laughed.

After two or three extra big hugs, tear-filled (but not spilling over!) eyes, and extra pats on the back, I reminded her, as parents must, to make certain her doors were locked, keep an eye on the burning incense holder, and not to leave the stove on. Hey, it's my job. I also reminded her how very proud I was of her. How dearly I loved her.

Of course, the move wasn't to some distant state. In fact, there now run about seven miles between her old bedroom and her new apartment. It's on the edge of the campus of the university she will be attending in August. She's a busy young lady now, working full time this summer, learning to wait for the cable and telephone installers, and sometimes, late at night, looking at an empty refrigerator because she forgot to stop at the store. She may not be in a classroom quite yet, but she is learning valuable, practical lessons. She is learning just how those wings she's spent years developing really work. I have an idea that they will take her far. That's what they were designed to do, even if it's in a new, distant direction. It's important that she knows they can carry her. There's no doubt in my mind.

Sometimes as I climb the stairs and pass by what used to be her bedroom, I momentarily listen, thinking I will hear her tapping away on her laptop, at work on another story or just touching base with a friend in one of the many states we have called home. There is only silence. One section of my nest is empty. I suppose that indicates some type of success and in time, I'm sure I'll see it as such. But for now, it's an adjustment, both a bittersweet ending and a shiny new beginning, and every now and then, the stirring of a heartstring or two.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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