All the calendars tell me it’s December, but I’m not ready for the end of another year. Time is not just marching on—it’s moving so fast, it’s exceeding the speed limit. I want it to slow down and return to the interminably slow plod at which it passed when I was a kid—when a year seemed to take a decade; when it was impossible to wait a month for anything; when a week, a whole seven nights, was waaaay too long. When Boxing Day was the worst day of the year because it meant 364 more days until next Christmas. How can it be that I’ve reached an age where I blink and it’s Christmas again?
On the upside, school is finished—final assemblies are done, our youngest has finished primary school and the kids are home for two months. Holidays and freedom—how I love that!
To top it off, our eldest returned home. As I drove out to the airport to collect her, I was a tiny bit excited. I arrived early and as I waited, I chatted to a few people.
‘I’m waiting for my daughter,’ I said. ‘She’s coming home from Melbourne. I haven’t seen her for a couple of months. Yes, she’s my eldest. Yes, she’s the first to leave home. How did you know?’
After a while, I noticed they kept looking at their phones and avoiding eye contact, so I left them in peace.
Despite the grin plastered to my face and the fact I was jumping up and down, my daughter still acknowledged me as she came through the gate. That made me smile and jump up and down even more—I’m not used to my children acknowledging me in public—only the 11-year-old still does, and I don’t know how much longer that will last …
As soon as our daughter arrived, I felt as if things were back to normal. That night at dinner, all the chairs around the table were filled, and later, all the beds were lumpy and messed. My children were home, all of them under the same roof, and I felt whole and complete again.
It has taken me most of the year to adjust to our daughter moving interstate. I knew it was the best thing for her—I’d actively encouraged it—but after she left, I felt bereft and miserable (see here and here). I didn’t like the new normal—the one with a member of the family missing. I was quite fond of the old normal, the one where we all lived together.
As a mother, I’d always known my children would grow up and leave home. Intellectually I knew it, but my brain hadn’t got around to telling my heart, and my emotions took a while to catch up.
There was an upside, as regular readers of this blog know:
We adopted Liesel, and she’s done her best to fill the gap left by our daughter. (You can read about that here.)
In a couple of years or so, the next child will leave, and then the next, and so on—they’ll finish their childhoods and hurry away. But at least I can get excited when they do come home. Really excited, embarrassingly excited, which is fun for me but not so much for my kids.
I’ve had a few other lessons to learn this year. I didn’t realise how abnormal our eldest child was until she moved out. I’m only learning now how obedient and kind to her parents she was and, consequently, how much I have to learn about parenting ‘normal’ teenagers. Thankfully, I have three other children to teach me. I must admit, I’m not always a good student—sometimes I’m a bit resistant—but they’ve persisted and worked really hard to hammer in some of these lessons in. I think I’m getting the hang of it and I might even get there before they all leave home.
Here’s what I keep hearing from them:
1. Do not ask questions. Especially if it’s about the opposite sex. Don’t ask, ‘Who’s this girl who is texting you every couple of minutes?’ or, ‘Who have you invited to the School Dance?’
Also, do not ask anything about tests. Questions like, ‘Do you have any tests coming up?’ or, ‘What mark did you get in your test?’ are not valid. You are only our parent and have no right to this information. If, for some reason, we do tell you a test result, don’t comment on how well we did or didn’t do. In fact, just wipe the word ‘test’ from your vocabulary.
2. Do not enter our bedrooms. Our private domain begins at the doorway and you are not to enter without permission. It doesn’t matter if you’ve run out of bathroom towels because they’re all lying on our bedroom floor, do not go in and fetch them. If you’re lucky, we might open the door a crack and hand you the aforementioned damp and smelly towels.
Also, do not sneak into our bedrooms while we’re not there—we know you’ve been …
3. Listen to us when we’ve had a falling out with a friend. Just listen and don’t comment or offer advice. Also, instead of saying how silly or petty you think the disagreement is and telling us to let it go, it would be more helpful if you nodded and sighed, and said, ‘That’s really awful and I understand why you’re so upset.’
4. Respect our wishes. Like our wish to be vegetarian. You choose to eat dead animals, but we do not, so do not give us food that has been anywhere near meat or meat products. For example, don’t chop our potatoes on the same board on which you prepare the meat*, and don’t use chicken stock in the vegetable soup you make especially for us. Also, make sure you list out every ingredient in the dish to reassure us we are not unwittingly eating a dead animal.
*Dad: This applies to you, too, when barbecuing. Don’t lie when you’ve used the same tongs for the meat and for our eggs and say you didn’t. It’s not that much trouble to use a second set of tongs …
5. Don’t buy clothes for us if we’re not there because you will only have to return them to the shop. How many times do we have to tell you that you have no taste or fashion sense?
6. Don’t talk about politics or any major issue that might be affecting the country or planet. Animal rights or welfare is an acceptable topic, albeit heart-wrenching and tear-inducing, but everything else is unimportant. Especially when OPI have stopped making our favourite coral-coloured nail polish, or if it’s Thursday and we still haven’t decided what to wear on Saturday night.
7. Do not speak to us in public. Or make any sound at all in public. Or wave or give any sign that you know us. And when you pick us up after school, wait until we’re in the car with the door shut before greeting us.
Also, because you listen to Classic FM, turn the radio down before we open the car door so your dirty little secret stays hidden from our friends.
8. Do NOT ever kiss us in public. If you must kiss us, do it before we leave home, where no one can see.
9. We hold the right to change our minds. Sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes even minutely.
10. Take our side when we’re fighting with our siblings. Always our side, never the other sibling’s side. And don’t tell us you don’t want to get involved or for us to sort it out ourselves. Also, be prepared for phone calls if we’re fighting, no matter where you are—shopping, doctor’s appointment, it doesn’t matter: our sibling squabbles trump anything you might be doing.
11. Do not write about us on your blog.
I’m a slow learner but my kids are quite forgiving, which is lucky because I really want to be part of their lives. Sometimes, they make my heart swell so much, I feel it as a lump in my throat.
Like when my younger son takes my hand as we walk along the street and tells me he feels bad for telling me he hates me when I make him practice violin. And when my elder son brings in the groceries or empties the dishwasher without being asked. And when the dogs wait outside our younger daughter’s bedroom door each evening because they know she’s the one who feeds them. I feel particularly chuffed when she asks me to go with her to choose a dress. And when our eldest daughter takes her youngest brother cycling, or goes for a run with her other brother.
And when the boys play their instruments together for a church fête:
And when one sibling accompanies another for an end-of-year recital:
They might bicker and squabble and expect the impossible, but then they do things like this and I see how wonderful they are, and how truly blessed I am.