Thursday, August 4, 2011

Regrets: I've Had A Few

Do not read this if you're Mark from Our Simple Lives sensitive and emotionally drained and somewhat bored with my going on and on and on about The Kid Leaving.


My life is such utter chaos right now that you'd think maybe I wouldn't have time to be so singularly focused.  I mean, Jules' tumor grew, JOHN FRUSCIANTE GOT MARRIED, and I still have two little people doing all sorts of things requiring my Direct Involvement. And all comes down to Her. Leaving.

Yesterday she loaded up her two youngest siblings and headed into the city with them. She took them ice skating and to the movies.  Her movie of choice?  The Winnie the Pooh movie.  The stories of her own childhood.  She'd deny it - but I think she's missing her childhood, too.  Or at least, remembering it.

Anyway - so she took the two littlest because she feels she really hasn't spent all that much time with them during the last couple of years.  She's been super busy being her Big Non-Child Self to worry with the siblings who are still busy being their child selves.  I think she's kind of hoping that after she leaves, all their little minds will eventually remember is that they had all kinds of crazy fun with their big sister doing things like skating and movie-watching.  She's trying to trick them.  I know where she's coming from because that was my Official Plan with HER. 

I was going to spend these last two weeks together doing all sorts of crazy fun things with her.  Of course, it hasn't worked that way.  For one thing, her idea of having crazy fun rarely requires my presence.  She's been hopping around from one friend's house to the next....up to Bandera to visit her boyfriend....Mom, I'm LEAVING soon and I have to spend time with these people!! 

Before you get all teary-eyed imaging me sitting here in her path of destruction - just sitting here all lonesome -like and ignored while she visits with Other People Who Are Not Me...let me just say that I have been running around like a crazy person and wouldn't have had time to give her if she'd wanted it.  I've had no sense of a relaxing summer at all - and now it's all over and done with.  Next week is Ellie's official last week here before college - and I'll be driving Camille into the city every day for her Dance Intensive Workshop.  And taking Joel to work.  And picking Joel up from work.  And getting our co-op going again. And doing a million other things.  I won't know whether I'm coming or going.  The one thing I know I will NOT be doing is sitting around waxing nostalgic with Ellie while bestowing womanly words of wisdom.  I'm pretty sure she has a schedule planned for herself....I've heard her talking to she's not all worked up about the lack of Mother/Daughter Time, believe me.

Recently, Ellie performed at the McNay Art Museum with her Aloegretto Quintet as part of the San Antonio Cactus Pear Music Festival.  (That's her on the very end - far right.)

It was a great concert and a rousing success for these kids.  Here's a pic of my dad and Ellie's best friend, outside on the grounds of the McNay after the concert.  Hey! Ellie's Best Friend!!  Ellie's leaving and I'm going to be All Kinds of Needy!!  Come see me!!

The museum sparked a little panic. As we were leaving, I was overcome with REGRET! I suddenly had an overwhelming sense of regret about all the things I thought I'd do with Ellie and haven't.  I mean, when she was a little baby - I had all these big plans, see?  And most of them have not happened. 

"Ellie!" I said.

"Oh my god, Mom...WHAT?"  She's cute, isn't she?  The way she always thinks I'm overreacting and hysterical when in fact, I'm just using a normal tone of voice (in my head).

"I never took you to an art museum!!  Like, ever!!  Why didn't I ever take you to an art museum?  I've had almost 19 freaking years to take you to an art museum and I never did! There are all these things I haven't done with you and now it's too late!!" (Notice the exclamation points!!  That's how I'm feeling ALL THE TIME!!)

"Mom, you would HATE walking through an art museum."  Ellie loves art museums.

"I wouldn't HATE it.  And even if that were true, I should have taken you. I have totally sucked, haven't I?"

"Michele took me. Papa took me.  And they enjoyed it. You wouldn't have enjoyed it."

"But that's not the point! The point is we have things to do and no time to do them! I never took you to the symphony!  Oh my god, you're a classical pianist and I never even took you to the symphony."

"You took me that one time I performed with the San Antonio Symphony," she said.  With a smirk.  "And Other People took me."

(I'm totally whispering here)....I don't like classical music. Whenever we attend a recital or performance, Ellie always feels the need to apologize to me. "What are you talking about?" I'll say. "I love this!" She'll snort or something. The truth is, I love it when she is playing. I more than love it. I can't even think of a word to describe what I feel when she plays. I'm completely absorbed by her, mesmerized by her, in love with her, when she plays. But when other people play? Even the really good and famous people? Well, it's kind of like T-Ball.  Have you ever had your kids in T-Ball?  It's Crazy Exciting when your kid is batting.  The rest of the time...not so much.  I'm embarrassed by this analogy, believe me.  But it works.

One time we sat down in a recital hall to listen to a concert pianist and Ellie skimmed the program. She did her snort-sound.

"What?" I said.

"Oh, nothing," she said. "You're just going to die, that's all. Well, maybe this song and this song....hmmm....the rest are going to kill you."

"Are they all really slow and really long?" I asked.  She just smiled as the lights dimmed. 

I survived that recital and countless others. In fact, I more than survived. I enjoyed them. Because I was with her.

On any given evening, I'd rather sit through a piano recital with my kid than do any of the million things I love to do. Because I like her. A lot. Have I mentioned she's leaving for college in two weeks?

When she was little I took her to the aquarium with friends.  And we were both filled with all kinds of awe when we walked through the doors into that underwater world.  We stopped at the first exhibit and I read all the plaques and signs to her.  Then I tried to move along.  She didn't want to move along - she wanted to ask endless questions and have the plaques and signs re-read.  Finally, we moved on to the next exhibit.  Repeat.  Next exhibit. Repeat.  The magic of the underwater world was quickly losing its appeal for me, especially when Ellie wanted to hear all about things like plankton and ocean current patterns and oh, I don't know, the mating habits of shrimp.  "Come on!" I said.  "We've been here 2 hours and we haven't even seen the sharks, yet!"

That was when my friend, Ann, took Ellie's hand and said, "I'll read you the signs.  Your mama just likes to look at the Big Fish."

I don't think that was meant to be a summation of my entire personality, but it kind of is.  I am a Big Fish Girl. 

Ellie has always been more of a Microscopic Sea Creature Girl.

She liked jigsaw puzzles. I never did one with her....even though she begged.  I cheated in board games or surrendered, entirely.  Whatever would get it over with the quickest.  I slept through countless children's movies.  I never strung beads, tie-dyed, or played Barbies.  UGH.  I have regrets, people!  I do!!  But am I transferring these feelings to the current Little People Living in my House? The ones who are not too old to play games and string beads?  Nah.  Not really.  I'm entirely focused on my failures with the oldest kid!  One at a time, people.  Get in line.

Regrets, regrets, regrets.  I didn't sing enough lullabies.  I didn't pack good lunches.  I was never prepared and never organized and her entire life has been a helter-skelter mess of us running around like chickens with our heads cut off.  What will she remember of her childhood?  If I took her to the art museum tomorrow - do you think maybe time will all run together-like and possibly convince her that her childhood was filled with trips to art museums?  Can a lovely little fog descend where she'll remember a mom who worked puzzles and painted tea sets for hours on end?

I doubt it.

I'm afraid I've missed so much by only looking at the Big Fish.  And now it's too late to go back and slow down and enjoy instead of sighing and tapping my foot as she lingered here and there and everywhere.  I linger in my mind, I linger between words on a page, but I don't linger at the physical places...the places where I could have held a tiny hand and clung to it with the knowledge that it wouldn't stay tiny forever...those physical REAL places where we could have stood side by side looking at seaweed and sandcrabs.  In the physical world, the REAL world, I am often in a hurry to get it over with.  And what have I missed?  Too much to contemplate. 

Will she remember me that way?  hurry up, let's go, why are you stopping, how long are you going to take....

I'd like to wrap this up with something catchy, at this point.  I know you think I'm leading up to it.  And don't think I haven't tried. I've been sitting here for ten whole minutes thinking...and that is a long time for me. But the truth is, I don't think she's spending a lot of time contemplating my parenting skills.  I think she's pretty busy being herself, which is something I've always encouraged.  Is that my legacy? 

Recently, I was looking for a very particular post I wrote years ago....a post about Unschooling.  I couldn't find it but I did find a post I'd written when Ellie was maybe 15 or so.  I was talking about how I had been a little blue - feeling that I was losing her (if I'd only known then that I wasn't losing her because I am FREAKING LOSING HER NOW and there is a big difference....exclamation point) and how I'd arrived at my dad's house and looked in my mom's desk drawer for some reason....and my mom had been dead for several years.  I missed her dreadfully and wanted to tell her how my baby was pretty much refusing to stay a baby and how it was dreadfully inconsiderate of her and it never occured to me that my mom's baby had done the same thing to her.  And I found something in the drawer that seemed to have been left there for me  to find just that very moment. 

I found a poem, tucked away in her drawer.

Here's what I wrote:

My dad noticed I was kind of blue. I tried to explain to him what I was blue about but I could tell he didn't get it. Male minds are not tuned into the subtle nuances of mothers letting go of daughters. I felt the need to talk to my mom - which is a frustrating need since she is dead. I walked back to the bedroom and for some reason, opened the drawers of my mom's desk. I don't know why. I wasn't snooping - just trying to find her, I guess. I needed to touch her things. Inside the drawer I found a little journal. My mom kept a journal? I hadn't known about that. It was mostly empty, except for two entries. The date was October 30, 1990 - two years before Ellie was born. Glued to one of the pages was a copy of this, by Kilil Gibran:

Your children are not
your children.
They are the sons and daughters
of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you;
And though they are with you
yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love
but not your thoughts,
for they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies
but not their souls.
For their souls dwell
in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not
to make them like you.
for life goes not backward
nor tarries with yesterday.

The funny thing is, I had forgotten all about this post.  And then today I found it while looking for something else.  Like it was left there, just for me to find, at this particular moment.

Thanks, Mom.  You were a Microscopic Sea Creature Girl who raised a Big Fish Girl.  And I turned out okay.  Thanks for reminding me of that.....just now.
Dang! I almost made myself cry.  I wrapped this up quite nicely, after all.

Here's the Aloegretto Quintet performing something classical by Brahms :).  Ellie's on the piano, of course! 


  1. If it makes you feel any better, I act like your daughter around my parents (now in their 70s), even now, even though I miss them terribly when I am in the US and wish I could spend all day with them just in the vicinity. But I still say things to them, "I've got to see my friends". So what I say to them doesn't exactly match how I feel.

    You are right, she probably doesn't spend a lot of time contemplating your parenting "skills". She loves you just the way you are and she loves the time spent together (I know I have no right to speak on her behalf but I speak as a daughter) and that she thinks a lot about you even if she doesn't say so -- even if she may not be at the place you are right now. If Fru doesn't have many regrets, then you shouldn't either! You have a wonderful daughter for life. Really.

  2. Ha! The jokes on you. I did read it. In fact, I am interrupting my time here on Confederate Flag Campground to read it. Actually, the kids are driving me nuts and I just said "no more t.v." and now they're all crying the blues while I'm trying to read this. It's hard to feel your pain about losing your baby when all I want to do right now is strangle mine.
    So, should I read this and take it as a sign to play board games with my kids? Because I really hate board games. Almost as much as I hate walking around museums. See, I'm the kid you should have had. And the good thing with me, I never go away. No matter how much you would want me to.
    Okay, now I'll be serious.
    You're a good Mom. Ellie is putting on a brave face. She's dying inside but she is too damn stubborn to show you. Or maybe she's too damn sweet and doesn't want you to see her fall apart. I'm sure that I'm right on one of those points. And if I'm not, that would just make her mean. I enjoyed reading this "love letter" to her. At first, when I saw how long it was, I was like "oh boy"! But is was easy peasy getting through. Mostly because I put myself in your shoes. I won't be where you are until I'm 53. That's billions of years from now so I'm not worried. Actually, John will be 18 first but he'll just moved into the basement. It's Claire that will break my heart into a million little pieces.
    Alright, I need to go. I think Jacob just bashed Joshua's head into the deck outside. Or maybe it was the other way around. I don't know. Whatever!
    Remember, you're a good Mom and although it's against the rules of parenting, it seems you have become a good friend to Ms. Ellie.
    Your Friend, m.

  3. You're killing me here, Carol. After the last couple of days I needed something to cheer me up. Now I am tearing up reading your wonderful post. I am starting to go into my panic mode with my oldest. He will start driving soon and is constantly talking about all the plans he has (Without me. Can you believe that?)for the future. So I am busy driving him everywhere he wants, just so I can spend 30 minutes talking and spending time with him in the car. Even though he is constantly texting the whole time. Isn't that pathetic? I have even sat through action and horror movies and tried not to make to many jokes about how bad they were. When did I become so desperate? I am excited and a little jealous of all the opportunities that he has in front of him. I once had someone comment that my kids didn't seem to attached considering they were homeschooled all their lives. I just laughed and said they probably just enjoyed the break from being with me all the I really don't think that is true. I just think that because we have always been there with our kids, they know they can spread their wings and we will always be there if they need us. Which I guess is a good thing for them, I am just not sure if it is for us.

  4. I suppose your mom has said it all, so why should I try to make you feel even worse huh? But reading your post has just reminded me (once again) that I should not rush my kids so much... And even though I don't mind playing some board games, I don't think I'll feel better than you do now, the day they leave to continue their life without me somewhere else. Oh and also: if you didn't do all you say you didn't do, you did plenty of other things, think about those!
    Please, just think about the good times and enjoy the other children without rushing them along too much... And can you post a video of Camille dancing please? Hugs from far away, jade

  5. When I read your post, this is what I heard: