There was a time when I thought my kids would never grow up. And that was all I wanted. My life was a constant roller coaster of diapers, baby wipes, runny noses, dirty clothes, kissed boo-boos, science projects, cooking food, washing dishes, birthday parties, parks, skating rinks, and slumber parties, daycare fees, homework, and taxi-ing kids everywhere.
Before I graduated high school, I was raising kids. Before I was old enough to vote, I was raising kids. Before I was old enough to drink, I was raising kids.
I woke up this morning and I realized, I’m not raising kids anymore. And it was bittersweet. Sure, I still have one kid at home. And sure, he needs direction and guidance still, but I’m not raising him. I don’t have to tell him to shake someone’s hand upon introduction. I don’t have to tell him to say please and thank you. I don’t have to tell him to look people in the eye when he speaks to them or they speak to him. I don’t have to tell him to speak up when something is wrong. I don’t have to tell him to clean his room. I don’t have to tell him to wash his dishes. I don’t have to force him to shower or brush his teeth. I don’t have to force him to apologize when he hurts someone’s feelings. I don’t have to run the rules into the ground anymore. He just does what he is supposed to do because it’s the right thing and he’s already learned it.
He’s sixteen. The last of my three amazing kids to turn into an adult. I know that 18 is the “legal” age into adulthood, but he’s technically a man now. He knows right from wrong (even if sometimes he picks the wrong road) and like my other two kids, he’s sympathetic (most of the time), empathetic, hardworking, funny, smart, down to earth, conscious (of the environment, people’s feelings, the world around him), he’s just a good person. Just like the two before him.
And then I got all emotional. And I started flipping through all the old pictures I had on my phone and on my drive. I restrained myself from going into the box of actual photos that I keep in my closet. But as I was looking at the photos, I was just thinking how much our conversations have changed over the years. I’ve gone from answering questions like “why is the sky blue?” “why do birds fly?” “how come squirrels wait for a car before crossing the street?” “Why do I have to try this?” to conversations that include “I never want kids.” “Maybe I’ll have kids someday.” “Can we stop and grab some condoms?” “Can you believe this shit….”
And I’m just so happy that I was the kind of parent that my kids didn’t run from the day they turned 18. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t a perfect parent. My kids will be the second to admit it, I’m sure. But I don’t think that is the most important part of being a parent. I think being human, making mistakes, admitting you made those mistakes, apologizing for them, and getting past it is the most important part of being a parent. Because there are no perfect parents. And there are no perfect kids. You basically get what you get and then you work your ass off to not fuck them up too bad and cross your fingers that you didn’t forget to teach them any of the big lessons before they walk out of your house for the last time to go call somewhere else home.
And now that I feel like my work is mostly done, I feel a little bad for all the jokes I’ve made over the last 25 years about counting down until the last one turns 18. I mean, it wasn’t really a joke. I was counting down. I’ve had kids my whole life. I wanted to know what it was like to not have to worry about being responsible for anyone but myself. But now that it’s almost time, now that I can grab my jacket and walk out the door and stay gone for the night or the weekend or the week and not have to worry about a babysitter or about anything bad happening while I’m gone because my kids can all take care of themselves, it’s just a bittersweet moment. The moment you realize that you’ve raised your kids and done it well… when you realize you could fall off the face of the Earth tomorrow and they would be self-sufficient and they would take care of each other and they don’t really need you is almost like the exact moment you hold them for the first time. You are proud and overjoyed and scared to death, but mostly you just don’t know how you will ever be able to love anyone else more than you love them for the rest of your whole entire life until the day you die. And your heart feels like it might explode into a million pieces and you kind of hope it does so you can physically give them some of it so they know just how much you love them.
So… before I start bawling… I just want to say to my kids…. I love you. And I’m sorry for all the stupid shit I did over the years. And I’m thankful that kids are resilient. And I hope that you have more good memories than bad. But more importantly, I’m really, really proud of you guys (and girl).
And to all you parents out there… you’re doing great. Just love them. Listen to them. Freak out less. Hug more. They will be fine. And so will you…
PS… Here are the pictures that started all this shit…. and after looking at them again, I guess the real moral of the story is that love = happiness. It’s not about the monetary stuff (although money makes it easier), it’s definitely love…