You’re a good mother – you give up your job to be a stay-at-home mum; you devote yourself to family life; you nurture them and help them grow; they give you sleepless nights and grey hair; and what’s the thanks you get? At the first chance, they bugger off! First your only daughter takes off for China and then, to add insult to injury, she marries an American and immigrates to the States. Then your only son, your baby, goes to the Cape to study. What does he do when he qualifies? He gets a job in Miami, that’s what. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted for both of them. I suppose it’s what we always wanted for them, to spread their wings and experience the world. But I’m just not sure that it’s what I wanted for me!
At the end of 2016 Alex qualified as a chartered accountant. Instead of staying on in SA, he decided to apply for jobs in America to get some international experience under his belt. He accepted a job in Miami and is due to start in mid-January. It’s been hard, I will not lie and even as I write this I’m tearing up – not because I don’t want him to go but because, although he left home 7 years ago (4 year degree at Stellies and 3 year articles in Cape Town), I know that this is his real turning point, and it’s mine too.
I had a taste of things to come this Christmas when Alex was unable to make it home because he had to go for his visa interview in Cape Town on the 3rd January. This was the first Christmas since we became parents that we spent it without either one of our children and it was difficult. When I invited Judy to spend Christmas with us I did warn her that I was going to be pretty miserable and pretty miserable I was too. It didn’t help that I had a tummy bug and was unable to consume as much prosecco as I would’ve liked. I think what distressed me the most was that Alex told me he would be spending Christmas on his own. Fortunately he heeded my pleas not to be alone and accepted an invitation to spend the day with a friend and his family.
Although I wouldn’t for second wish that my children (or I) had not gone in the directions that we have, I can’t help but be envious of those families that have remained in close proximity, at least on the same continent (for fuck’s sake).
Okay, if I have to be honest, my children’s adventures have provided me with wonderful opportunities to fulfil my own travel dreams. I always wanted to visit China – and I got the chance to do that when Kiera was working there. I’ve had amazing experiences and fabulous trips to Thailand, America, the Bahamas and the Cape, thanks to Kiera and Alex, so I really can’t complain.
But I really hate that I only get glimpses into their lives now, that I see everything from a distance. I wasn’t there when Kiera and James got married, I missed her graduation, I haven’t spent Alex’s birthday with him since he left home and now Kiera and James have moved into their first house and I’m not there to help. To top it all, this was the first Christmas without either of the children.
I’m envious of people whose lives seem to have run the course of a continuum. More often than not, they have a hometown, old school friends with whom they keep in regular contact and children and / or family who live nearby. They may not be entirely comfortable with who they are and what they do but they’ve got there step by step and the human condition plays out within this continuity. What I covet is the lack of bewilderment at finding themselves where they are at any given time – they are where they are meant to be.
My life, on the other hand, feels so disjointed, like I’ve lived in parcels of time, as one person morphing into another, time and again. I look back and I can’t see the connections. I’ve reached my late 50’s and I still have no clear idea who I am or how I got here. The problem is that I’m always aspiring to be somebody else instead of coming to terms with the reality of who I am and what I do.
I remember telling my daughter, when we still lived in Durban, that when I moved to the farm I was going to start a business propagating and potting plants in “junk” containers. She asked if I had already started collecting suitable containers or propagating any plants. When I replied that I was waiting until I moved to the country, she expressed doubt about my commitment to the idea. “If that is what you really want to do, you would’ve started on it already” she said. And she was right; I didn’t make any effort to get my potted junk idea off the ground.
I think it has finally sunk in that instead of trying to find myself, I should be trying to accept myself. I’m not lost, I’ve been here all along, but I haven’t given myself enough credit. It was not very fashionable to describe myself as a fulltime mom; I never regarded being a mother as something one could put on one’s resume. However, I now realise that most of my decisions are based first and foremost on the fact that I am a mother and that I need to value that. Spending time with my children is the most important thing I do – my life therefore has to allow for that.