31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Separation Anxiety - Mom Has A Lot To Learn!

Single With Children: Time marches on, despite what we may wish

By Susie Parker

Publication Date: 09/13/00

When I was growing up in West Virginia, there were few things I dreaded more than September looming on the calendar. I'd wince as I went shopping with my mother and pass the tables of school supplies, a harbinger of something I dearly wanted to forestall. In my waning days of freedom, I used to imagine living in a world where summer would simply never end, and I would forever be out of earshot of a school bell, intercom announcements and lunch lines.

Eternal summer was most decidedly my idea of paradise back in my younger days but this year I discovered that summer held lessons of a different kind. At least for me. Subtle to be sure, but knowledge nonetheless.

I have a very amicable relationship with my ex-husband, and I realize that for many noncustodial parents, summer is a time to catch up with their kids because the school calendar precludes any lengthy opportunities to really find out how much they've grown and matured. My ex-husband requested that the kids visit the first four weeks following the last day of school and a couple of more weeks in July. As we made plans for this back in March, I didn't see where there would be the slightest problem with our projected schedule. In the abstract, it seemed perfectly logical and fine. It's in the implementation that I began experiencing the puzzling conflict of emotions. Suddenly, six weeks apart from my two teen-agers started feeling like an eternity. What in the world would I do with six weeks of childlessness?

My summer came to consist of some very LONG days and even LONGER evenings.

The rooms of my home seemed to echo with silence. Of course I had friends that I went to dinner and caught movies with. On my desk it seemed as if I had plenty to keep me busy and lots of writing I had been trying to find the time to tackle. There were closets to clean out, walls to paint and old friendships to renew. Every one of our four cats and two dogs needed their vaccinations and that's a half day project if ever there was one. There were books I'd been meaning to read, but in my self-imposed introspection I found it hard to concentrate. Television was not a good option, and I discovered I was never cut out to be a channel surfer. I didn't even have anyone to fight with over control of the remote!

Time. What had once seemed to fly by when I was 12 was positively crawling now that I was 40, and though Katie and Justin were a mere 250 miles away, I felt like they might as well have been on another continent, so isolated was I. In fact, I kept a calendar in my bedside table and a magic marker with which I "X'd" out another day that would finally bring the three of us back together and end the loneliness I was feeling. I also decided that the next person who asked me if I was enjoying my "vacation" was going to receive an answer they hadn't bargained for and a piece of my mind I could ill afford to share.

These endless summer days taught me that I had become a hypocrite. How many times had I admonished my kids not to wish their lives away? How often had I reminded them that every single day is a present to be savored and lived to its very fullest? And most of all, how terrible it tastes to have to eat one's own words!

The lesson for me, and perhaps for a lot of parents, single or otherwise, is the realization that eventually, in the not too distant future, our nests are going to be vacated. One day our kids are going to gather up the posters, the CD player, the clothes and, hopefully, the lessons we've spent every single day trying to teach by word and example and head out into the world to become the independent, freethinking, responsible individuals we've given so much of ourselves helping to create. Unlike my endless, empty summer days, the time of impending adulthood seems to be narrowing its margin with cyberspeed. And of course, that's exactly as it should be.

This summer taught me something, even though I don't remember signing up for the course. I learned to accept the fact that yes, time IS marching on. I see those vacation days as both precursor and challenge. Just as I've challenged my kids to become the very best two people they are capable of being, I have learned that I have to become more independent myself and carve out a life that eventually will dwindle down to me and perhaps a future spouse if the fates decide. Regardless, there will be changes in the very near future and in equipping my children to face them fearlessly, full of positive energy and optimism, I, in fact, have to remember to do the very same for myself.

Perhaps parenting isn't always about having the right answers, but recognizing there is never an end to the lessons we all must learn and continue to grow through each phase of life we're blessed to approach. My conclusion is that with the closing of this summer, I am hopefully a little wiser and a definite work in progress.

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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