Last year, I talked about anticipating changes that would be taking place for our family, with Jeffrey leaving for college being the most significant. It was a looming anxiety and it seemed monumental. For thirteen years, our family was defined by six individuals and the interactions that helped influence who we are today. What would happen when an integral part of our family left our day to day lives? Gray clouds were moving in and threatening a prevalent dreariness. Although the process has been a journey of many emotions, it has resulted in reestablishing and redefining relationships between us, that not only prevented the gray clouds from lingering, but allowed relationships to grow that never had a previous chance to develop. After experiencing the bittersweet goodbye of dropping off a college freshman, I started to see each member of our family in a new and different way. There was an added bounce in our steps and a lively eagerness in tone, as we began to interact and form these new relationships. These days, Eva, Marena and Vivian have so much time together and have connected in the way I always imagined three sisters would. Jeffrey was bonded to the twins – they all play golf and as a result, spent more time together. Jeffrey and Eva drove to school together every day. Now, the girls drive to school and eat dinner together, and Eva’s study breaks always end up at the kitchen island with the three of them snacking and chatting. There is a camaraderie and joyful bantering that didn’t exist before. When I hear footsteps to the kitchen, I drop whatever I am doing to be part of the gathering.
With John continuing his weekly commute from southern CA, we have had to reach back in time when I was in Michigan and he was in Boston for grad school, to relearn the skills of maintaining a long distance relationship. We were a little rusty after 25 years, but now we’ve got the hang of it. After being gone for a week, John wants to feel like he is contributing and being part of the household. So, he has taken over trash duty from Jeffrey, and I eliminate a Google Express order so he can go to Costco. But, he is only allowed to drive the Chevy Volt, so we don’t end up with a 5-piece luggage set or a 6ft teddy bear. We have also had to redefine our relationship with Jeffrey. We are now his advisors, and he is having to learn the responsibility that comes with keeping advisors informed and engaged. Instead of helping to direct his life, we are along for the ride, waiting for the next discussion, and listening to, rather than watching, him grow. There is a song that I have been listening frequently to these days called Fresh Eyes by Andy Grammer. It’s about a guy who sees his long time love with renewed wonder, harkening back to when they first fell in love. Its melody and lyrics capture the way I feel about our new family dynamics. “So, suddenly I’m in love with a stranger, I can’t believe she’s mine, Now all I see is you with fresh eyes, fresh eyes.” I love my family, but right now I am “in” love with this new family. I get giddy waiting for the next dinner conversation among us four girls, for the next phone call from Jeffrey, for John to come home Friday night so we can watch a new episode of our latest Netflix show. After eighteen years of parenting, caregiving, scheduling – and let us not forget driving – I see all of these people I have known for so many years with fresh eyes. “If I could bottle this up, I would.”
Jeffrey is a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He found out last December that he was accepted, and it was the start of a very fun spring and summer. Getting him packed and settled in his dorm was not so much fun. He begrudgingly went to Bed Bath and Beyond with me to order things for his dorm room. And, his procrastination skills hit their peak when it came to packing. A few days before we had to fly out, he finally brought down a duffle bag. It was full of cables, wires, extension cords, and computer accessories. I was so relieved to finally get him to Amherst, settled into his room, and buy him clothes beyond the warm weather California and golf attire that he shoved in another duffle bag. After saying goodbye, there were so many emotions running through me; the best way I knew how to process them was to write about it. See my blog post from August 2016 if you are interested in reading it. Jeffrey came home for Thanksgiving, and from everything he tells us, he is enjoying college life. He likes his classes, roommate, the golf team and spending time with his teammates. Any complaints are coming from my end, regarding calling home. I use Willa, our 1 ½ year old labradoodle on Skype to entice calls home. The first time I received an unsolicited call, Jeffrey wanted to know the DirecTV password to watch football games on his computer. Following a friend’s suggestion, I now change the password every Sunday. Conversations with Jeffrey can be very brief “Good, yes, ok, around 2am, video games, ok”. (I’m sure you can come up with the questions that precede these succinct responses.) But, just after the election, he called and we spent a lot of time talking. It was a gratifying, insightful conversation listening to him talk as an adult, even though I can still clearly envision him as a little boy in his Elmo Halloween costume. As the conversation moved to more mundane topics like food, he mentioned sitting down at the cafeteria with a guy who was talking about the election. Jeffrey could not get over how smart he was and how much he learned from him; and we talked about how much more there is to college than classes and exams – and DirecTV streaming.
Eva is 16½ and a junior in high school. Just when I started to breathe a sigh of relief at launching our first off to college, we start the process all over again. But, I’ve seen this concert before. There’s an opening band, so we don’t have to get there too early. Eva stills enjoys volleyball, singing, cooking and traveling. Her service trip this summer was in Tanzania working with kids and helping to build a village home for a doctor; her school volleyball team just won the State Championships; she is hoping to start an Acapella group with a classmate; and she is teaching a cooking and culture course during her school’s experiential curriculum week, Knight School. Eva has found a new interest – beekeeping. She belongs to the Beekeeping Club at school and they just recently sold their honey, beeswax soap and lip balm. With our new family dynamics, the twins have looked to Eva as their North Star. Eva draws us all together. When she calls after practice to say she is stopping by the grocery store and wants to make her tomato soup, the twins help out by making grilled cheese or quesadillas. The girls’ love for cooking has benefitted me tremendously. With John and Jeffrey gone, each weekday evening is a mini slumber party. We all gather around the kitchen island to cook and eat. Recently, Eva’s biology class and the twins’ human skills class have converged on topic to human sexuality and reproduction. I don’t know whether it’s because there are no boys in the house, or because they enjoy the topic so much, but the discussion gets detailed. They go back and forth on what they have learned, and just like Ms. McGourty, their Human Skills teacher, taught them, they do not sugar coat their descriptions with cute words; they call it like it is. In fact, I believe they enjoy seeing my face when they describe things in utmost detail. When the discussion encourages my participation with questions like “Have you ever…” and “Did you and Dad…”, I quickly excuse myself.
Marena and Vivian are 13½ and in 8th grade. They continue to enjoy golf, summer camp at Camp Champions, and have had lots of fun participating in their middle school productions of The Lion King and Robin Hood, as well as Seussical this January. With Jeffrey gone, I realize that some of the things I blamed him for, are actually the fault of Vivian and Marena. Last year, I mentioned the linen closet that Jeffrey always left open, and how much I was looking forward to a closed closet door. Well, that linen closet door still remains open more often than closed. Eva never uses the linen closet, since her bedroom and bathroom are downstairs, so that removes her from culpability. It’s like a game of Clue and one of the suspects has been eliminated. Instead of Colonel Mustard, in the dining room, with the candlestick; it is Marena and Vivian, in the hallway, with the linen closet door. And, the upstairs bathroom light that doesn’t get turned off – again, not Jeffrey. My guess – Mrs. Peacock, I mean, Vivian and Marena, in the bathroom, with the light switch.
The teamwork that Marena and Vivian are known for, now extends to include Eva. Eva jumps out of bed 15 minutes before they have to leave in the morning, so the girls help Eva get her things together, grab her keys, and get the car started while they wait. This morning, I needed a ride to attend a meeting at school. It was a jarring experience. The girls, wearing their ugly sweaters for the holiday assembly, yell at me to hurry up as they run out the door. I jump in the back seat and immediately I am in foreign territory. There are Starbucks cups, paper plates, boba tea straws, and fuzzy socks strewn across the seat and floor. I try to be quiet (with only a few admonishments about Eva’s driving). Music from someone’s iPhone is blaring. The beginning of the ride is fairly quiet, as their brains slowly wake up. Then, the chatter begins – making note of the cute guy that is always waiting for his ride on the corner; seeing a classmate on his bike, and non-stop discussion about how some kids are known by just their last names and if you mention them by their first names, no one would know who you are talking about. Eva drops off the twins in front of the middle school buildings; the girls efficiently rush out with their backpacks. She parks in a carpool spot of the student lot and says a quick “Bye, Mom” before she is off. I am alone, sitting in the back seat quietly catching my breath in the morning aftermath. Once upon a time, this Acura MDX was our brand new family car welcoming Vivian and Marena into this world. Now, it has 200,000+ miles, a Lego Chewbacca figure glued to the dashboard and the outline of a Green Bay Packer sticker that once clung to the back window – signs of Jeffrey, Eva, Marena and Vivian scattered everywhere. And, just as I now see them differently with their relationships evolving, I see myself with fresh eyes – no longer the carpool mom, but instead being driven by my kids, and taking an inevitable back seat in their day to day lives. As I open the door and gather the trash to clean up the back seat, I smile with satisfaction, reminding myself this was always the goal.
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Marena, Vivian & Willa
Jeffrey, 18 years old
Eva, 16 years old
Marena, 13 years old
Vivian, 13 years old
Willa, 1 1/2 years old