My daughter is approaching her 19th birthday. Seriously, next week she’ll be 19.
For most of the last year, she has talked about how she doesn’t want to handle things on her own, she wants a parent to do it for her, she isn’t ready to adult.
She says it that way, with “adult” as a verb. I think, but don’t say to her, that most of us are still figuring out how to adult! A lot of us are still faking it until we make it, and are a little nervous that someone might actually discover we don’t really know what we’re doing. At least not all the time.
Now, on the cusp of her 19th birthday, my daughter came to me shyly and asked if she could tell me something. She hemmed and hawed for a minute, then started with “I’ve been thinking about some things . . .” which kind of trailed off. So I cut her some slack, since I am impatient sometimes, and told her to just go ahead and blurt it.
“Would you still be okay if I didn’t live with you?” she asked, all eyes and uncertainty.
No, I thought, no I will not be okay. I haven’t had nearly enough chance to be your mother. I haven’t loved you enough. I haven’t bought you everything you ever wanted. I haven’t been your best friend. I haven’t sat at the dining room table and done homework with you. I’ve been a crappy role model because all I can do is take care of today so you’ve never had someone show you how to plan for the future or pursue a dream. I never even taught you to drive. And when you go, I will be all alone and my world will be smaller and darker and emptier. No I will not be okay.
But that isn’t what I said, because even though it’s true, it isn’t exactly true. For most of her life, she lived with her dad, not with me. I have lived without her before. I will go to work, hang out with friends, go away on weekends, go shopping, read books, feed the cats. Life will go on pretty much the same as it always has, I will just live alone. I’ve done it before. I’ve done it most of my life in fact. It’s normal for me. I’ll be fine.
Plus, well, I’m not young any more myself. I’m 50. It’s not exactly old but I outlived both my parents who were 47 when they died, so this is kind of a milestone. I’m entering the second half of life, and at some point there will come the time when I won’t be able to live alone any more. When that happens, I’ll be back at her door telling her she needs to put her life aside at least a little and make room for me to come home. Not right away, but maybe in 25 years or so.
It sounds like a long time, but when you’re busy having a life, it’s surprisingly short.
I’m looking at my bucket list, culling the list simply because I’m not sure there’ll be enough time to do all of it any more, deciding what adventures I must have and which ones I won’t regret passing up. I’m thinking about, what are the last things I want to get done in life, to be sure they are complete and I am full of memories and experiences. Some of them I need to do now while I still have energy and ability to do them, so I’d better get on with it.
My daughter? She’s just starting out. She’s at the other end of this process. She has a whole wide world out there waiting for her and she doesn’t even know what she wants to do with all the time she has. Not yet fully, anyway, even though I think she has a basic plan.
Tell her to stay here with me, to be limited by my limitations which are only going to increase in coming years? Clip her wings so she can’t see what’s over the horizon? Not a chance. This is her time to go and do and experience. Have adventures. Fall in love. Change her mind. Whatever it is she needs to do to be a full person and a citizen of the world.
“Would you still be okay if I didn’t live with you?” she said.
This is not asking permission, even though it’s phrased that way. This is a declaration that after a year of saying she’s not ready, now she’s ready.
Now she’s ready and I want to fluff my wings around her and say, “No, no, you’re fragile and it’s not safe, and you need to stay here with me.” Instead, I keep my hands in my lap and I don’t get emotional.
“Of course I’ll be okay,” I say.