The comings and goings of almost adult children brings instability, an ever-changing family scape. One leaves for a year and then returns, another has just left for university, and another (my nephew) has moved in. On top of that we got a new puppy (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
I am feeling overwhelmed – like I should be attending to multiple things, only I am not quite sure what those things are (except when I am just about to fall asleep). I don’t like this edgy sensation, but I also know this flux is going to continue for a good while yet, so I am going to have to get used it, or run away and hide.
I remember my mother talking about wanting to live all by herself in a beach hut by the sea when I was the same age as my children are now. At the time I didn’t get it and thought her desire both ridiculous and selfish. Now I just want to bang on her driftwood door and be allowed to enter her haven of order and certainty.
There is some research that suggests that lifetime happiness is shaped like a U, decreasing steadily until the age of 44 before rising again. Other research correlates happiness with the age of your children, dropping as they reach teenage years only to rise again once they leave home. However, I am not sure what happens when you reach forty-four at the same time as your children leave home, but also come back again, and you add another one (and a puppy) into the equation. Am I heading for my happiest or unhappiest year yet? Will I even have time to notice?
And then I am reminded of the saying; be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.
It is so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of life, to rush from one task to another without considering just how invigorating change and instability can be. So things are little manic right now. But before I know it, the children will be gone, the puppy grown, and all I will be left with is a perfectly ordered home and deep yearning for the past, unless I too embrace this state of flux, go with the flow and see where it takes me, rather than wishing everything could remain the same. There’s plenty of time for that, but only when I am dead.
Saying goodbye to you for the second time was no easier than the first, particularly as you were entering the most chaotic bus station I ever experienced, situated in the murder capital of the world. I am sorry I cried, I did try not to go all ‘weird’ on you, but you and I are different in that way.
Spending a week with you in Honduras was truly special after eight months of having to make do with the lingering scent of you in your wardrobe – yes, I am going all ‘weird’ again.
I won’t lie, I was petrified about coming to Central America, and only you could have got me there. You were right of course; the people of Honduras are, in the main, kind and decent, just like people are everywhere. But, and call it paranoia if you will, where you saw curiosity in the attention of the locals, I saw hostility, particularly on the Bay Island of Roatan. The disparity in wealth is overwhelming and uncomfortable, particularly on cruise days, where tourists are disgorged onto the island en masse for five hours and not a minute more, to swarm over the local shops, waving dollars in their well-fed fists.
When we got the taxi to West Bay and you negotiated, in Spanish, a local price, I realised how much you have become your own person and how small my part in your life is now. And when the taxi driver stopped to pick up two Canadians from the port and charged them three times the amount he had charged us for a third of the distance, I couldn’t help but revel in our shared camaraderie and the reflected glory of being able to speak the lingo – even though of course, I don’t speak a word. It was both disconcerting and exhilarating to be the on the other side of our relationship.
I loved our bus ride to Santa Barbara. I loved the fact you wanted us to experience the way you travelled. Yes, we could have afforded a taxi, but then I would have missed the sellers, hawking juice in plastic bags, which you bite the corner off and suck out, jumping on at one stop and then off at the next. I would have missed the slow crawl through dusty towns and villages, where people gathered around the bus stops for a chat and a drink and something to eat because no one ever knows when the bus will arrive. Although poverty is not romantic, there is something to be said for the loss of community that individual wealth brings.
I won’t deny I nearly keeled over with heat stroke when we arrived in the tiny village of Gualjoco and foolishly decided to accompany you, in the heat of the afternoon, without a hat, to meet the Honduran families you have been living with since August. Your ten minute walk turned into a twenty minute hike, it seems you haven’t adopted the Honduran pace, even if you have adopted the people and the food.
I still can’t get my head around who would build a five star hotel in a place as remote as Gualjoco, particularly as we seemed to be the only guests. I don’t believe it is to benefit the local people, based on their reaction to us bringing fourteen children to swim in the hotel pool. But I am sure glad we argued our case and despite being fleeced, seeing the children’s joy made every Lempira worthwhile.
Like you, the Honduran people are at times hard to fathom. They want better lives, but there is a fatality in their reaction to what is happening in their country and like their government it seems ‘face’ is more important than action. I remember you said to me before we came out, the Honduran people are wonderful and they want you to be happy, even if that means they have to lie to you. As we waited for the flight to Roatan and every smiling airport worker after another said it would be leaving in five minutes (for over three hours), I couldn’t help but agree with your perceptive assessment of your hosts, but also your acceptance of their way of doing things.
‘Honduran time, mumma, just go with the flow.’
You cannot imagine the pride I felt, when the families put on a celebration meal for our arrival because it meant that you had turned into the adult I’d always hoped you would. The letter Jesus wrote to us, in which he said you were a strong woman and he would always hold you in his heart, left me breathless.
You wear no make-up or shoes, and your feet are dirty, your hair is loose and long, bleached to amber at the ends, your nail varnish is chipped and your clothes are worn out, but you have never looked so beautiful and I have never been so in awe of you.
The savage beauty of Honduras, I will forever associate with you at your most alive and essential.
Thank you my brave and adventurous daughter for giving me such incredible experiences and memories. I know you cannot, like the jungles of Central America, be tamed or contained and that to truly love you means having to accept this. I am trying really hard, and if you think this letter is me being ‘weird’ again, then you too will have to learn to accept me as I am.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will always be there for you, and will always welcome you home.
I just read this fantastic blog post from Mom at Work, Anna Spanos, about how she is working so hard to be a good mother, she feels she is failing to be precisely that.
“Some days […] I am so busy taking care of her that I barely get to just see her.”
Her sense of maternal guilt, although prompted by her daughter’s difficult birth, is one I recognise. If, like Anna, I make all my daughter’s food from organic ingredients, read to her every night, restrict TV viewing, disinfect every surface in the house twice daily and keep the households medicines locked away, then she will be safe.
The problem is, whereas Anna can tuck her daughter up at night and baby-proof the lounge, I no longer have that luxury because my daughter grew up!
Once, I was my daughter’s world, and everything she ate, drank, saw, read and believed in came from me. Now she is thousands of miles away in Honduras, a country I have never visited, volunteering in a cultural environment I have little knowledge of.
Saying goodbye to her at the airport in August last year, and watching her walk through the boarding gates, away from the safety of home and me, was physically painful, as if the umbilicus really is still attached. Knowing, at 18 years old, she was flying into the ‘murder capital of the world’ didn’t help matters.
I cried a lot in the first week and each night struggled to fall asleep as I imagined her hurt, alone and desperate for her mother, suffering from malaria or dengue fever, or worse, injured in a bus crash or diving accident, or worse still kidnapped by a gang – there is nothing I haven’t imagined in those dark hours before sleep.
But 8 months later, she is alive!!! and well, speaks fluent Spanish and has travelled far and wide across Central America. She has also turned nineteen, survived the end of the world (she spent New Year at the Mayan ruins in Copan) learnt to scuba-dive, teach English to stroppy teenagers (the same the world over it seems), wash her own clothes, cook and clean (hopefully), as well as snowboard down volcanoes and countless other adventures that I’d rather not know about. At this moment in time she is arranging to move from the project she is currently on to a new one because she feels she can do more to help the people of Honduras in a different organisation.
This is a daunting prospect for me and one I had not foreseen.
I vetted her first project, spent countless hours on the web searching obscure references for the possible dangers lurking behind the glossy website. I was there helping her to write letters to charitable trusts, doing research, fundraising, and sorting out travel arrangements to Scotland for her training. Even though she was striking out on her own and leaving home for the first time (to go to the murder capital of the world – can’t shake that thought), I had control, was able to steer and direct her.
This time round I have been left on the sidelines. She has researched and found the second project, gone to visit it, made the difficult decision to leave where she is and start up somewhere new, on her own. Although she has informed me along the way, she has not asked for my opinion, or for my permission. I have had to see things from her perspective and offer her guidance rather than tell her what she must do. I have had to trust her judgments and support her decisions, rather than make them for her.
This is by far one of the hardest aspects of motherhood I have ever encountered.
A big part of me wants to insist she stay where she is. Tell her that I know best and that she is silly to take on a new project.
Yet, when we manage to skype, I can hear the excitement in her voice and the determination that she is making the right decision.
And so I remind myself I brought her up to think for herself. To make thoughtful decisions and consider all options. This is the first time she has ever had to, and I have to trust she will do it the way I taught her.
Did I teach her well enough?
I don’t know what the right thing to do as a mother is (I never have). But I do know undermining her decisions, or trying to manipulate her thinking to suit what I want (to stay where she is because I know she is safe, if frustrated) is not the right thing to do, however difficult it is to give up control.
Her dad and I fly out to see her in a few weeks. By then her decision will be made and her new plans in place. What I do know is, I will hug her very tightly (and probably cry). I also know I will tell her how proud I am of her, and, for a few nights at least, I will get to tuck her up in bed again, just like I used to.
The challenges may change, but being a mother doesn’t. Nine months or nineteen, you still want to do everything you can to keep your child safe – and when you realise that you can’t, that despite all your efforts they will make their own decisions and mistakes, you can only hope you did it right, or at least you did it good enough.
Life cannot be baby proofed, but maybe you can life proof your child, so whatever they face they will make the right decision – or at the very least the one you would’ve made 🙂
What is the right balance? Do you feel you have got it right? All thoughts welcome.
The end of my novel; and with it that magical time when you can dream about what it might be, rather than what it is.
The end of my husband’s holiday; no more lazy days, long lie-ins and rambles across the field to the pub for supper and a pint, or a cheeky Pimms in the garden at four o’clock.
The end of the Olympics; and with it, the feel good stories in the press about how good it is to be British (though teachers still got a bashing, I note).
And for me, the end of an era, one, which at times, I fervently wished would end. Then before you know it, and before you are ready, it does. Just like that.
Yes, my daughter has left home*. When I go to bed at night, no longer are my family safely tucked up under one roof. No longer am I the first person she will talk to in the morning, or turn to when she is upset about school work, or ecstatic about exam results. I have been relegated. Left at home with her teddy, who, not so many years ago, she wouldn’t go anywhere without. I am cut adrift. Floundering; wanting to return to the middle, to the happy chaos of knowing what I was doing and why I was doing it, even if I never had the time.
When she got on the plane to San Pedro Sula last Sunday, she took a big chunk of who I have become with her. Instead of feeling joy in having a clean bathroom and all my clothes in my wardrobe (not hers), I am engulfed in a melancholic sense of everything coming to an end, which, of course, everything does.
Or does it? Do things ever end or just transform into new beginnings? Or more eloquently put:
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Seneca
If I am too busy mourning the end, might I miss the beginning of something else? Something just as good, but wholly different to what I have known before?
The end of the novel, heralds the beginning of the next one, which will come out the way I see it in my head – this time.
The end of the Olympics, heralds the beginning of the Para Olympics and the legacy of 2012.
And the end of my daughter’s childhood, heralds the start of a new and exciting beginning as she explores Central America and learns who she really is (and how to do her own washing).
And me, well, today I am going to mourn, shed a few tears while walking the dog in the woods. Endings are hard, even if they are beginnings in disguise.
But tomorrow, I will embrace the beginning of a life with grown up children and the opportunities that affords me. My daughter’s life is just beginning, not ending. And, when she comes home next August, the same but different, we can begin our relationship anew, with, I live in hope, a mutual appreciation for keeping a clean and tidy bathroom.
As for the end of holidays – never a good thing, but there is always the beginning of the next one to look forward to.
What endings have you reached? Can you see the beginning, yet? I would love to hear from you.
*My daughter is volunteering in Honduras, teaching English. You can find her eloquently titled (not) bloghere.
is a writer. She's also a firm believer in the positive power of prison libraries, a creative writing teacher and the Managing Editor of The Forge Literary Magazine. She's winner of a Waterstones' Bursary and her novel in perpetual progress was runner-up in Faber's Not Yet Published competition. Her fiction has been published in dozens of journals including 3 AM, PANK, Frigg, Neon & wigleaf.