I’ve reached the point of parenthood that I’ve been both greatly looking forward to and totally dreading in equal measure: the point of little to no involvement in (or even general awareness of) the day-to-day goings-on of my son because he no longer lives at home. Or even in the state.
Of course, it just had to happen in 2020.
From the moment my husband and I decided we were ready to have kids, my entire way of thinking changed. Everything I did, every decision I faced, fell within the realm of a whole new reality and raised a steady stream of related questions. Should I start trying to exercise now in order to have a healthier pregnancy? Do I really have to take prenatal vitamins even though they make me horribly ill before I’m even pregnant, or will Flintstones’ chewables suffice? Does deodorant get absorbed into the bloodstream and cause serious birth defects all in the name of olfactory vanity?
I was lucky to get pregnant fairly quickly and once that happened… well, I can’t think of too many decisions, big or small, over the course of the next two decades that didn’t factor in the kids on at least some level.
And as the mom (and therefore the presumptive keeper of all kid-related information and defacto daily decision-maker), I fell into the habit of running a constant search program in the back of my mind for any potential unmet needs. Had they eaten three well-rounded meals that contained a variety of fruits and vegetables and no added sugar or chemicals? Were they up to date with their well visits and teeth cleanings? Did they have any paperwork that needed to be filled out and signed for school? Was their hair cut and were their clothes clean and did every inch of them show positive signs of good mental and physical health?
It may not sound like it, but I do like to think of myself as having been a relatively chill mom. I tried to balance the wants with the needs, cut them a fair amount of slack on average, and did my best to encourage them to make their own decisions whenever possible. But that’s just the nature of parenting, isn’t it? That’s your job, to ask those questions and to stay on top of things.
And two decades of reinforcing a habit means that habit doesn’t exactly go away overnight, if at all.
My oldest is 19 years old now. He’ll be 20 next March. And just before his last birthday, he moved to California. You know, one of those states clear on the other side of the country? The country that fell within the realm of its own whole new reality at about that same time?
It’s been just over seven months since I’ve seen my kid and that search program in my mind has been taking up varying amounts of bandwidth every day the entire time. Is he OK out there? Is he wearing his mask and keeping a safe distance from people while still engaging with the world for his mental health? Is he eating well and having fun and making good choices? Are the inevitable bad choices only minimally damaging to his life and/or his psyche? Exactly what is his threshold for how often his mother can call or text him in a week before he wants to scream?
On a related note, having Tracy Bonham’s song “Mother Mother” regularly popping up in my playlist has been surprisingly cathartic in a reminder-of-the-human-condition type of way. I particularly enjoy hearing it while I’m alone in the car. And since that song came out when I was in my mid-20s, I’m granted flashbacks to my own life lessons and, well, I’m still here and on the whole, everything is, in fact, fine.
How much did I stress my own mother out by calling her when I was frustrated or overwhelmed by life when I was my son’s age? Or by not calling at all, leaving her wondering if I was ok? And how much do I do that now? Sometimes I think I can actually hear the hum of her own search program running with her own steady stream of questions so it looks as if I have little hope of breaking the habit.
We’re lucky to know our son’s out there with his uncle, essentially giving him some level of training wheels during his full-speed crash course ride into adulthood during a pandemic. Knowing he’s not alone answers a whole lot of potential questions before I can even think to ask them.
Questions like whether he knows how to vote or if he’s getting enough ice cream in his diet, for instance. (The answer to both would be yes.)
We had no idea when our son left how long it would be until we could go visit him, and we still have no idea now. But we’ve got our airline miles ready and waiting. In the meantime, I look forward to the phone calls and texts that come when he’s bored or driving home from work. I even look forward to those that come when he’s frustrated or overwhelmed by life. Because that’s the nature of parenting, isn’t it? That’s your job — to be ready for them when they need you no matter whether it’s now or next month.
It’s cool. I’m patient and my search capabilities remain primed.
Maybe I’ll call my mom while I wait.
Allison Chrien aims to answer potential questions regarding small business and community group happenings before people think to ask them through her website loopincopley.com.