I’ve never been much of a “look back’’ person. Never wanted to be in high school again — God forbid. And while college was a blast, I’m over it. Sure, my 20s were great: friends, glamorous job, top of the world a lot of the time. Except when I wasn’t, just like everyone. Then I got married and had my first child and my whole world tilted, as if now everything — gravity, the stars, the air itself — was pulling me toward this new person. And I felt the same way with my second and third.
But still, not looking back. Looking forward in my thinking.
Like getting through the parenting challenges of three kids under the age of 5 and two cross-country moves during that time. Adjusting to all the phases and joys of each of their ages. Feeling a tiny bit resentful whenever the older moms would admonish me to “enjoy them when they’re little.” I am, I would think bitterly. I cherish them, but it’s also exhausting and overwhelming and I’m doing the best I can and don’t need any more guilt, thank you very much.
And grow they do, nothing can stop it — if you’re lucky and blessed as my husband and I are, a thousand times over. They grow and you muddle through and send your first off to college and get your second one through high school and the third is in 10th grade (whoa), and you’re on your way. To that point of “I did it! And thank you, God, for keeping us all safe and healthy (ish)” and of course the classic advice: “Your job as a parent is to raise them up to let them go.” Yes — I believe! Cue The Book of Mormon.
If they are resilient and mostly self-sufficient and can cope with some of what life throws them at 15, 17, and 19, well, cheers to all and no looking back. Except that I just got off the phone with my sophomore in college. And we’ve never been closer, for which I am ridiculously grateful after her high school years of sullen-surly-leave-me-alone behavior at home. She is doing tremendously well at school, although she has a few issues, same as everyone.
As I hang up, I grasp the phone to my heart, as if, by doing so, I can convey all the love and support I have in me through the airwaves, to her. I sit there wishing she were still at home and wondering what I could have done better, and an overwhelming visceral wave of emotion rolls over me. I want to go back to when they were 4, 6, and 8 and just live in that moment again. Like Emily in Our Town when she gets to return from the grave for one ordinary day in her old life and she feels it as she never had before. “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” At this moment, I understand that scene in a way I never really have before.
I know it’s partly coming out of the fact that I’m due for another post-cancer checkup. Yes, it’s been more than five years, and I had the greatest medical care in the world — the cancer is gone and I’m better. Still, there is a threat to my mortality that infuses my world in a small way, every day. But I don’t like regret, so my “look forward’’ philosophy must prevail. I will rejoice in the moments that came before and find the magic in every possible day, same as I’ve always done, before kids, before cancer, during and since.
And soon my daughter comes home from New York City, and I get to marvel at all she is and has become.
Lisa Rafferty is a playwright (The MOMologues) and director. She writes comedies about motherhood and even about surviving breast cancer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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