From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

The Road to Independence

This morning started out like any other except that by the time I finished packing my kids off for the day, I saw a piece of my daughter’s girlhood vanish.

It all began as I bundled up my girls, Alison and Melissa, twin nine-year-olds, for day camp at the town pool. The girls were in their bathing suits when I turned to Melissa and asked her to put on her cover-up. Early in the season, I had purchased swim suits for the girls with matching cover-ups, but I noticed that neither twin was wearing them.

“Can I just wear a T-shirt, Mom?” asked Melissa, a bit nervous that I might be upset by the request.

“I thought the cover-up was cute,” I answered. “I bought it to match your bathing suit.”

Melissa locked on my eyes and smiled apologetically.

“Can I go now, Mom? Katie’s here.” And she skipped out the front door in an oversized T-shirt, courtesy of her big brother, Matt.

The T-shirt wasn’t pretty, mind you, and it was neither expensive nor matched her bathing suit like the one I had bought. In fact, it was bordering on ratty.

But it was one thing the outfit I had purchased was not: it was cool.

“She just wants to be like Katie,” Alison said. “She wears T-shirts over her bathing suit, like her older sisters. They’re teenagers.”

“What?” I asked.

Since when did my little girls want to be like anyone except, of course, me? Didn’t the girls say they wanted to grow up and be writers like their mom? Didn’t they pretend to be me, crunching their right shoulders to hold the phone, while using their free hands to do tasks around the house? Didn’t they raid my closet regularly so they could try on my best dresses and my high heels?

Then it hit me. The moment long ago when being cool suddenly became important to me. It was around the same time that I stopped dragging out my own mother’s 1940s-era silver trench coat that reminded me of Joan Crawford. It was when her once magical costume jewelry, the jewelry that transformed a ten-year-old me into a glamorous movie star, suddenly looked unfashionable and, well, old. I didn’t want to be like my mom anymore. I wanted to be like Amy Burofsky, the cool girl at school with all the cute outfits.

Then I realized that it had been a while since I had been infuriated with the girls on a Saturday night because I couldn’t find my other high heel. And I hadn’t seen my closet looking like Macy’s after a 70-percent-off sale for some time. The girls hadn’t been rummaging in my closet.

When did it stop? When was the last time the girls helped me dress for an evening out when they would say, “Mommy, you look so beautiful.” Now, Hillary Duff is the person they sigh over.

It is as it should be, of course. Children need to become independent of their mothers, don’t they? I remember the countless times I dreamed of this moment, when I wished my girls were older and less dependent, so that I could have more time and freedom to do what I wanted to do— to meet my deadlines, to go to the gym, to have a clean house. (Okay, so that’s not going to happen yet!) I remember counting the minutes until my husband came home so I could run out to—anywhere—for a few brief hours of alone time. I remember times when I felt stuck, suffocated, invaded.

No, I’m not going to throw out some corny aphorism. Well-meaning people always throw out sage advice, such as “cherish the moment,” during the worst possible moment, like a toddler meltdown at the supermarket. I hated those comments then, and I hate them now, too. I will never miss temper tantrums. And though I’ve missed out on some special moments because of my exasperation, there are so many other times when I delighted in my kids’ childhoods and held those magical moments dear.

What the sages didn’t say was that the child-rearing years are a little like being a teenager—you really can’t comprehend what you have until after it’s passed. It’s only when you’re thirty-five and long past all the tumult that you truly understand what all those parents meant when they said, “If only I knew then what I know now.”

Now, I finally understand what a colleague was telling me years ago when she came to work one morning upset with her eight-year-old son, who had forgotten his lunch. She had raced after the school bus to catch him, and he was mortified, not because she wanted to give him his lunch, but because he said the flab on her legs wobbled as she ran.

At the time, I remember thinking she was being ridiculous and a bit vain. She was thin, and her son wasn’t exactly the arbiter of good looks. After all, he was only eight.

Now, I finally understand that she wasn’t crying about the wobbly flab on her legs. She was crying for her son’s lost innocence. That day, as she ran to the bus, her son realized his mother was not the most beautiful woman in the world. She was his mother—and he still loved her, yes, but he saw her flaws.

That day she went from being Wonder Woman to being human.

And she didn’t like it.

I don’t blame her. Neither do I.

Pat Winters Lauro

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