Well, it sure is mighty quiet in these parts!
And when I say “quiet,” I mean it’s seriously quiet. Even the cats think so.
Seriously, it’s kind of weird. The house looks pretty much the same as always, except that the bathroom shelves now look like the place is inhabited by more-or-less sane adults, not a crazed band of hair-product hoarders, and the fridge is no longer stuffed with mystery items that are vitally essential for whatever cookery project our girl had on the go, but otherwise completely inedible. But the feel is different. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Maybe it’s not the house, so much as me—I’m aware that we’ve moved out of the “active” phase of parenthood, into something that I can only describe as “distance parenting.” And on a daily level, this means that things are very, very quiet…punctuated by occasional text messages informing us that Rachel’s roommate changes her clothes four times before she leaves their suite, or asking for Mitchell’s Skype address.
Last night, Mitchell and I were unpacking a (strangely small) load of groceries, and he raised an eyebrow at the single loaf of bread I’d purchased.
“Will that be enough?” he asked.
“Enough for what? Neither of us eats that much bread in a week.”
He’d lapsed back into old-think for a second there—not that Rachel ever ate that much bread, but like most teenagers, she travelled in a pack, and a herd of them could clean out a kitchen faster than a school of piranhas could strip down a cow carcass. (Actually, this is one of the things we’ll really miss about having Rachel here: she has amazing friends, who seem to believe that adults are real live human beings. According to other parents of my acquaintance, this is unusual, and we have always considered ourselves pretty lucky on that score.)
Other differences I’ve noticed, minute in and of themselves:
- We bought a lot of fish last night. Salmon, halibut, cod. Mitchell and I both love fish, but Rachel isn’t fussy about it (in most forms—fish and chips are A-okay with her), so we generally kept it to a minimum while she was living here. Now, it’s a fish free for all. I may go nuts and indulge in one of my all-time favourites, kippers for breakfast. Oh, and pickled herring. Om nom nom.
- And we stocked up on Ryvita crackers, which she has always derisively referred to as “hamster crackers.” Yes. Fish and Ryvita. Breakfast of champions.
- We’ve had to cut our weekly delivery of organic vegetables, since there’s no way in hell that the two of us will be able to plow through that much kale, lettuce, beets, green beans, Swiss chard, corn, carrots, etc. in a single week. We’re veggie lovers, but let’s be realistic here.
It’s all small stuff, really, but it adds up to a sense of strangeness: we have the house to ourselves, to mold and shape and stock as we see fit; but we’re always aware of what’s missing. Don’t get me wrong—we’re not in mourning, we’re just…adjusting to the new reality. And times of adjustment are always a bit trying, even when you know that what you’re adjusting to is a good and right thing.
When Rachel was really little—about six years old—we moved from the house we’d lived in since she was a baby. She was NOT HAPPY about this, and let us know in no uncertain terms. When I tried to explain to her how much bigger and better the new house would be, about how she’d have a bigger yard, with a swing hanging from the maple tree branch next to the back porch, and a garage where she could keep her bike, and triplets who were almost her age for neighbours, she was unimpressed. The more I tried to convince her, the less happy she got.
Finally, her eyes full of tears, she wailed, “But Mummy, it’s going to be too different! And you know I don’t do well with change!”
I sat down with her, and laid it out: “Rachel, here’ s the thing. Everything in the world—everything—has three parts. It has a beginning, and a middle, and an end. And the end of one thing is always the beginning of something new. Maybe that new thing will be something we’ll really like, or maybe it’ll be something we don’t like so much, but no matter what happens, it will eventually end too, and be replaced. And that’s how life goes on, in circles of beginnings, middles, and ends.”
“A whole is that which has a beginning, middle, and end.” Yeah, right. As if you made that up, Aristotle. That was totally mine. Circa 2000 AD.
(It turns out that I wasn’t just pulling this out of thin air: apparently Aristotle thought of it too. Whatever. Great minds think alike.)
That day, Rachel and I talked for a long time about beginnings, middles, and ends: how we’d moved into our house when she was a baby, and we’d lived there until she was finished with senior kindergarten, and now our time in that house was coming to an end. But the end of living in that house wasn’t the end of everything—in fact, it was the beginning of something new. I won’t say she was thrilled about the move, but understanding it seemed to help her get a handle on it.
Over the years, we talked about many changes—moving from one school to another, losing pets, beginning and ending relationships, the deaths of my parents and Mitchell’s mother—and when necessary, I’d trot out the old mantra: Everything has a beginning, a middle…”and an end,” Rachel would finish for me.
While every change hasn’t been easy, somehow it has helped us to remember this fundamental truth. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And almost always, between the end of one thing and the beginning of another, there’s a space where we have to adjust and figure out the new thing.
That’s where we all are right now: Rachel is at the end of her childhood, and Mitchell and I are at the end of the active parenting phase. The new reality, of our child’s adulthood and our new role as distance parents, of our house as an adult space, is just beginning. It’s different, and difference is always a bit uncomfortable, until you have a chance to wear it a few times and break it in. And then a time arrives when you realize that what used to be different is now just daily reality; and that’s when you understand that you’ve moved past the end, past the new beginning, and into the middle.
I don’t know what that will look like, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be good. For now, I’m content just to experience this transition, and see what evolves.
But boy oh boy, it sure is quiet!
Lots of love,