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Diane Tarantini: A child’s independence day

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By Diane Tarantini

I love the first day of school, be it kindergarten, middle school or college. Once the kids walk out the door, there is both silence and a guaranteed span of time in which messes will not be made. The clean quiet makes me feel like I belong to me again, instead of to everyone else.

With that said, I dread the first day of school, because it means setting alarm clocks earlier, packing lunches and readying often very sleepy kids for departure. Not only that, but come one or two o’clock, the silence in the house begins to feel too quiet. And also a little bit lonely.

As a kid, I loved summer vacation, loved it so much. Riding bikes in the graveyard or down to the convenience store for Pixie Stix, flavored wax lips and watermelon Bubble Yum gum. Going to the pool. Picking zinnias and snapdragons from Mom’s cutting garden and tomatoes as big as a doll’s head from Dad’s vegetable patch. Every summer I read a hundred or more books from the library — Nancy Drew mysteries and stories about Alex Ramsey and his black stallion.

My fond memories of summer breaks are why I mourn the onset of a new school year for my kids. Though it increases my freedom, it decreases theirs.

Harder still is the realization that as time marches on, my babies are growing up. As sad as that makes me, I can see how all along, life has been preparing me for this.

First there were sleepovers with grandparents, then later with friends. During the summer, we dropped off the kids for two-hour sessions, five nights in a row, of vacation Bible school. All three of our children enjoyed 4-H day camp. In time came weeklong church or sports sleepover camps. One summer our son spent two whole weeks at West Virginia University’s Governor’s School for Math and Science.

Sooner or later, most kids obtain a driver’s license. Maybe a part-time job during the school year, a full-time job for the summer. Every activity gets them and you used to being apart for a few hours, days or weeks.

Each milestone takes your child a few steps away from you and a few strides toward their own independence. I remind myself often that independence is the goal. At least, it should be.

I remember a conversation I had years ago with a friend who parents quite differently from me. Her daughter’s leash was little more than a handle and a clip. Consequently, the girl didn’t know how to function in the world without her mother’s guidance.

As my friend described their life, it occurred to me my 13-year-old daughter was better equipped for life than the other mother’s 19-year-old. This realization reinforced my commitment to raise competent, not confined, children.

A few weeks back, I heard a counselor on the radio say one of the hardest things a young person will do is gain independence while living in their parents’ home. This tension is why kids are often difficult, sarcastic or oppositional. They’re simply trying to be separate from their parents, and often words and tone are the only tools they have at their disposal.

Our youngest child, Junior-Man, is starting his senior year of high school. For the third and final time, I am seized by the realization that I only have one more year with this child. It’s like getting gut punched while peeling a really big onion.

When he said, “I only have one more year at home, Mom. I don’t know how I feel about that,” I resisted the urge to tackle-hug him. Instead I assured him when the time came, he’d be welcome to bring home his laundry and/or his roommates. I’ll take care of the clothes while feeding him and his friends. Maybe it could be a once-a-week thing.

Because really, with no kids around, not even at three o’clock in the afternoon, this old house is going to be way too quiet.

Lifestyles columnist Diane Tarantini is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Morgantown. Check out her blog, “Lessons from a Life Half Lived,” at www.dianetarantini.com. She can be reached at diane@dianetarantini.com


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