My daughter didn’t intend to take a gap year. She intended to go off to university to do all the things that first years do; the good, the bad and the ugly, and then post about it on Instagram after blocking all followers over the age of 30.
But 2020 hasn’t quite played out as expected, and despite quietly desperate messages from university presidents promising my kid truckloads of virtual fun from the comfort of her own bedroom, she decided to take a pass. Instead, she got a job at a bakery. She rides her bike to work, matches her masks to her outfits and is banking some serious coin. She gets a year to soul search and save, and I get a bonus stretch with my baby. All’s well that ends well right?
Except that she still wants to do all the things that first years do; the good, the bad and the ugly, and then post about it on Instagram after blocking all followers over the age of 30. Actually, she forgot to block me last week: “What’s with the lighter?” I later asked, trying for casual. “I just think it’s cute,” she said with an innocent shrug, “It matches my sweat pants.” Last month, she dyed her hair and got a wrist tattoo. She wants a belly button ring. Her phone is always dead. It’s over.
It really is, because while I try to pretend that nothing is different, that I still have a high schooler in the house, the truth is my daughter is changing before my eyes. She’s ready for adventure. She’s dying to bust loose. She wants OUT. She now speaks about partying with the same reverence once reserved for Griffindor. She is, after all, 18,—19 in February— practically a grown-up. Right now she should be stringing fairy lights in her dorm room, eating Chinese takeout at 3 am and making some of the best friends of her life. Instead, she roams the city’s parks and thinks her curfew should be 2 AM. “Three nights in a row?” I said pre-lock down, my eyes round with hurt. “I was hoping we could watch that Ted Talk on vulnerability together—Oh! Or, maybe Normal People!” I offer referencing the millennial hit that’s basically one long sex scene. She stops in her tracks. “Like I would ever watch Normal People with you,” she says. Then she looks at me with affection, the way you might look at a friend from middle school who you no longer have anything in common with, and gently but firmly reminds me that she’s supposed to be at university right now and living on her own.
I get it. I do. But am I supposed to just STOP parenting overnight? She still has SO much to learn, in my opinion. She buys far too many tops, for one thing. “Online shopping addiction is actually a thing,” I said the other day, sending her an article about it. Also, despite access to perfectly good coffee at home, she insists on buying it at the trendy coffee shop across the street. I tell her it all adds up and encourage her to do the math. “Oh my god, mom I WORK!” she groans. And without my encouragement do you think she would even consider sitting in the backyard (with a blanket, of course, there’s a bit of a chill—oh and maybe you could leave your phone inside) because the quality of light this morning is breathtaking and those red leaves won’t last forever?
“Mom, I’m supposed to be at university, leave me alone.”
I should. I know I should. But I can’t. I fret when she’s not home. I hate not knowing if she’s safe. “But if I was away at university you would have no idea where I was,” she says, exasperated. It’s true, but that’s almost easier— like a free fall into the unknown: I’d hug her goodbye in September and just pray to god that I’d see her at thanksgiving. Instead, I clutch my phone and follow her ride.
I’m brimming with ideas for her. She could read 20 Classics, make a vision board, start a yoga practice now instead of waiting until she’s 35 and riddled with anxiety like I was. Ooooh if she would just let me, I could make her Gap year the BEST YEAR EVER! She could volunteer at an urban wilderness camp once a week to get that hit of nature she so desperately needs, learn new recipes and cook for her family, bring back board games to her friend group! Go to bed at 9 pm with a cup of tea and one of the many untouched books I’ve bought her. Journal—and no, not using the Notes app on her phone, it’s not the same thing, I’m sorry it’s just not. Make space for just …being. That one she really doesn’t seem to get. “If you want her to do something, lead by example,” my husband tells me, “If you want her to volunteer, then volunteer.“ He is so not helpful at times like this.
I’ve always told myself that my kids are not my “project,” that they are just on loan to me. I’ve read the books. And I’ve believed them! Or at least I thought I did. But the truth is, my kids have consumed me for the past 18 years. They have been my number one focus. I have loved nurturing them and guiding them. When I think of the next phase – the empty nest that’s coming faster than you can say ” No, you can not have a mojito,” I feel like I’m falling into blackness.
You never think your kids will grow up. My daughter’s plans may have been derailed for a year, but it’s just a matter of time. She’s so impressive. She has a job. She can canoe in a rainstorm and make e-transfers and book her own flu shot. She’s done. She’s a work of art.
Her younger sister, however, hmm…I have some ideas…