Me here. Them there.

It circles around every year, this time no different from the last. At first, but a specter, small in the distance. Then, growing larger in its approach, shimmering under late July sun, it crests the hill of the final week of the month.

And then, somehow –suddenly– August 1st is upon me, charging, without warning trumpet, knocking me down, and tipping over a cauldron of conflicting emotions.

Six years ago, I moved from a big city to a much smaller one to make a home with my love, PB. In the excitement of new union and the chaos of carting both business and bed, it would be several days before I admitted the magnitude of my decision.

My daughters had generously taken time to help me, driving my car, which we’d packed to the rim with everything that wouldn’t fit in the truck. I drove the me-haul. In the too-few days they had to spend in Ottawa, I failed to attend to their feelings about the change, remaining wilfully blind to the obvious: This was not just another weekend visit with my partner. This was not just another trip to hang out with extended family. This was an irrevocable demarcation. Me here. Them there.

My youngest left first. When her train was called, she patiently extricated herself from my tearful clutch, and I fell back into the company of my oldest, to whom I would similarly cling a short 24 hours later. And so began my new life: At almost 50 years old–no stranger to marriage–I carried on like a virgin bride whose enthusiasm was tempered by bewilderment.

Just a few days later, out for an early morning walk, PB and I watched two women strolling along the canal. One, my age. The other, near the age of my girls. Before my new husband could react, I was on my knees, a child crushed by the weight of irredeemable longing.

Over time, the miles between us have, for the most part, become easier to bear. I visit. They visit.

When I go there, and it is time to leave Toronto, I am often happy to quit the noise and the traffic and the reminder of how unfortunate are the lives of some. And that relief stays with me for the first few…sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes minutes… after I cross my own threshold.

And when they visit me and the goodbye happens at my door, I usually fall easily back into the routines of my life, my work, my marriage. But not always. Sometimes the grief at parting is so great, my day is lost. And sometimes the grief is greater, and it consumes a part of PB’s day as well.

He doesn’t complain. He knows that I gave up what he did not in order for us to be together. And while I’ve never begrudged his need to stay in Ottawa while his youngest daughter was still in high school, neither was I ever far from the certainty that I had given up a part of myself that might ever be lost.

But, this morning, sitting down to write about how hard it is for me to be here and them to be there, the hard truth overwhelmed me.

Though the miles between us are many enough, it is not distance that cleaves us. And the process did not start when I moved.

The truth is they left me first, as it should be. They’d both been away from home for over five years before I left town, and had begun tracing the shape of their independent orbits. If I noticed, I wasn’t bothered. I was preoccupied with a new business. I was proud of the young women they were, and delighted to be called friend and included.

But, where once they had jobs, they now have careers. Where once they had boyfriends, they now have partners. In the time since I left Toronto, they have moved fully from the cusp of adulthood to a total embrace of their own paths. And so it should be. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

My reality is that I miss them and wish it were possible to drop in for coffee or catch a movie on the fly. Share a weekend dinner without having to pack a suitcase.

My truth is that I am in pain—the pain of leaving behind the past. The pain of not knowing where I belong in my children’s evolving lives. The pain of shifting equilibrium.

As my daughters have become adults, sometimes fulfilling my visions of their futures, sometimes delighting me with their own turns, I’ve tried, like a child losing grip on her balloon string, to keep hold. But they have, in so many ways, slipped my grasp. And, the higher they soar on the air of new interests and new passions, the more I fear they won’t see the detail in me and will fix me in their mind as simply ‘parent.’

They don’t know yet what it is to be at this strange point in life. To carry forward every hope, every fear, every dream, every insecurity, while the weight of years so obscures the original design that those closest stop wondering after its essence.

They don’t know that for me, death is not the ultimate fear. For me, it’s becoming less and less visible to those who mean the most. It’s fading into irrelevance and being set on the shelf of obligation.

They don’t know how often I am awakened from reverie or slumber by the panic of knowing I could have done better. And that there is nothing, nothing, that can change what went before. That there is only regret and apology, or camouflage. But no relief.

They don’t know what it is to trade places with their children. To become the smaller, the lesser. To find yourself looking for approval from those who once sought yours.

Four years ago, my first grandchild was born. The gift of attending her birth, and that of her brother two years later, is rivalled only by the joy of birthing my own.

My daughters believe, I’m sure, that my interest in them has been overshadowed by the delight I take in my grandchildren. They are beautiful, my grandchildren, and I adore them.

But they are not my first loves. My true loves. They are not my children.

But as my daughters’ lives build in depth and complexity, and as I try to find my place in their orbits, the grandchildren have become the safe vessels into which to pour my too-great love. They don’t yet see the frailty in me. They have no glimpse of the burden I will become as I get older.

They restore my equilibrium. And I know how to be.  Me.

Published in: on August 1, 2011 at 6:36 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s beautiful, Diane.

    • Thank you.

  2. this is beautiful…and made me sad. my mother just dropped by. right at the kids’ bedtime…we leave tomorrow for vacation. i do a terrible job of making her feel welcome, i realize all of a sudden. thank you for your words, Diane.

    • Hi Bonnie. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I’m moved to think something I write has an effect on people. To think it might alter your dynamic with your mom, is well, humbling. D.

  3. This is such a wonderful, riveting story – oh, so beautiful it has brought me to tears. How I hope that I will have the grace and wisdom when my sons are grown.

    My own mum is a gift and a treasure and while she is only an hour and a half away, some days, it’s too far. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into how it might have been for her, watching me unfurl my wings. And for giving me courage for when my turn comes to watch my own children soar.


    • Liz, Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to open your heart up and respond on such a personal level. D.

  4. What a beautiful post and blog. So glad I stopped by and will definately be returning.

    I hope you don’t mind that I added your blog to my blogroll.

    • Thank you, Sherri, for your kind comments – and for including me in your blogroll. A blogroll is my next step. I’m still figuring this all out. Hope to see you here again.

  5. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and actual effort to make a very good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to get something done.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond, and for your kind words. Some posts are easier to write than others, though I probably over-worry them all. But this one carved a piece out of me. In response to your comment about procrastination, all I can say is that since the need to write became all-consuming, it has been easy to find the time. Good luck!

  6. Dear Diane
    I live in Hamilton, my Daughter lives in Etobicoke, even though its a fairly short distance, I get somewhat the same thoughts that you do.
    I dont have any Grand children and probably never will, but I do love my child as much as you love your children.
    Sometimes I get very lonely knowing she is there and I am here.

    Chirper, Hamilton, Ontario

    • Hi, Chirper. There are people in my family who think I am too emotionally-tied to my children, but I suspect there are far more parents who feel this way than not. I hope you and your daughter get to enjoy lots and lots of time together. It is so precious.

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