I’ve spent a lot of my parenting time alone. I remember days of sitting in parks, smelling freshly bloomed lilcas, mown grass, tulips and hyacinths, mock orange and dog poop, while my baby slept on, in blissful silence.
I remember waiting in parking lots, hesitating to enter schools or preschools, wanting to give the growing children their freedom from hovering, listening to CBC or some rock and roll station, dancing in the driver’s seat, solitary.
I remember long long nights of watchful relaxation as the kids snored or dreamed or wheezed (asthma) upstairs, waiting for the cry out and hoping it didn’t come, waiting for that last late feeding when the youngest would finally settle, burping gently, breast milk pooling under his lip.
I remember months and months of taking the kids to parks, only to have them run off, free, shouting to one another, plotting games where I had no part, making up stories while I sat and thought and could do nothing else as any shift of focus would bring them screaming back to me, for adjudication, attention, complaint.
I remember years of going to watch games – rugby mostly – where I would sit alone peering through my ready for disaster eyes as rucks piled up on top of daughter and son. I remember watching my youngest perform, well after the age of parental bondings, sitting alone among them.
We never knew anyone much. My ex was busy with work, always work. And we moved every year for a while there, making friendships with other parents difficult to create or maintain. As the kids grew, the parental involvement lessened – no more hanging out at the pool sharing “almost drowned” stories with other parents, mixed with chatter about other parenting challenges – toilet training, feeding, disciplining.
Things became much more distant and secretive once the kids became teens. The kids didn’t want to share, and other parents, fearing what might be revealed, went for the one-liners about amounts of food eaten or the size of shoes. We parents lost our shared experiences and instead competition filled in the spaces. Tales of outrageous successes by every teen hid the not-related-tales of shame, arguments, drugs, alcohol, sexual activity.
I try not to brag about my kids – my mother went on so much about us, even to each other – that I vowed to never accomplish anything worth bragging about. It almost worked, until I overheard her marvelling to an aunt at how clean I kept my house…so I had no tales to contribute.
Now, though, the separation from my kids is even greater. I don’t even have them to look at anymore – they’ve spiralled outwards into their own lives as well they should and its only occasionally that I am permitted a peek in, always hesitant as I am of stepping too firmly on their newly established selves. They call and rant to me about the unfairness of a life that doesn’t give them all they want at 18, or complain about the costs of living or the lack of a job, or the misery of university life or various things people have done to them (including me).
It takes a lot, as a disabled 51 year old, to be sympathetic.
But I long for their voices, for their contact, however brief and sometimes critical. So I continue to parent, long distance, sending my love along long-stretched almost detached umbilical cords, hoping that somewhere in all the lonely watching over the years, the message of love has come through.