When I was in my last year of college I lived in a rundown apartment in Willimantic, Connecticut. Willimantic was seven miles from Storrs and the University of Connecticut. Seven miles is far when you don’t have a car. I didn’t have a car. I had a bike; but bikes suck in New England winters. I also had the bus, and a 24 hour library, and the couches of friends when I didn’t catch the last bus home.
I was college student poor. So poor that I recall one day having no money and only a rutabaga to eat. To this day I can’t eat a rutabaga and not think of that girl that was me so long ago. It wasn’t so bad, I like rutabagas.
I think of that story tonight as my daughter is away at college (post bac) and presently has $10 to her name and no groceries. I was sharing this news with Chris and he had me recall my college days. He said he had many days himself when $10 would have been a fortune. Ten bucks can get you a weeks worth of Top Ramen at least. Truth be told my daughter has it pretty good, despite this small setback. Money is on its way; and she is learning what it is to be resourceful and independent. There is something inherently affirming about taking care of oneself.
I told my son this at the beginning of summer. “You need a job,” I said, “not just so you can make money, but because it’s empowering to take responsibility for yourself.”
It’s excruciating to watch your kids struggle, there’s no denying it. I have to believe that there is a greater gift I can give my daughter than worry. She will come out of this stronger and wiser and likely proud of herself.
I talked with my son just briefly yesterday. I had been trying to get in touch with him for a little while, just checking in, and he called me back just moments before I had to go into a class. He had many stories to share and was abuzz with excitement. He had finished a quarter and was hanging out with friends in Laguna Beach. He was getting a car and has a great summer job lined up. And best news, he might even be home for a week and I would get to see him.
Then this morning I got a call from my daughter. She shared that her physical, required for her summer job, had come back reporting she was in excellent health. The best of which was that her heart was strong and healthy. The news made me well up. Just yesterday I had received an email from the treatment center she had gone to last summer for her eating disorder. Life has moved on. She is recovering, we are all recovering.
I was struck by the settledness I feel. Momentary as it is, or as my mind allows it come. I had a talk with my father a few days ago. It is the talk we have often. He worries about my lack of ambition and a plan, that I have flitted from one thing to the next, never really having a career. And I remind him, painfully, that I raised children. That was my job…I chose to be a mother above all else. And then he back pedals, trying to make sense of my life if only for himself. And I am left feeling less than in his eyes…misunderstood and a disappointment.
The calls from my children reminded me of some greater truths. There is nothing that is more valuable than love. I have been very fortunate to have lived a life that allowed me to be a mother. I have worked hard and loved deeply, and there is nothing I would change about that.