Saturday, December 5, 2009

Obsessing on Next Year

When my younger daughter came home from school on Wednesday she asked where her sister was. I looked at her and said, “In Denver?” She knew her sister had left that morning for a high school diversity conference and wouldn’t be back for five days.

“Oh, right,” she said. “I miss her. I just want to talk to her.”
“About what?” 

“I just like talking to her,” she said. “It’s so quiet here. I thought I was the noisy one.”

Even with two dogs, one of which may be pregnant, and the other which barks at anything that moves past our house, and the daughter who likes to laugh and talk nonstop, the energy level was lower.

There hasn’t been any teenage bantering all week. No one is asking for clothing advice, because mine isn’t sought after, it’s my older daughter’s advice that’s desirable. The dogs have only greeted my husband at the door, not my daughter – she hasn’t come home late from rehearsals. I don’t hear her in the bathroom in the mornings listening to music on her laptop, and she doesn’t suddenly appear out of her messy cave of a room to participate in the kitchen conversation.

She won’t be here over the weekend to help decide what movie to watch on TV or at the theater. She won’t be back in time to watch the Patriots with her dad. She won’t be here to argue with us over college applications, which are due all too soon. 

After my younger daughter realized her sister wasn’t going to miraculously appear, she escaped the kitchen for our TV room and her computer where she could video-chat with long distance friends, and didn’t reappear until she and I ate our take-out dinner. (My husband was out as well.)

Is this what our future looks like? Next year? When daughter #1 is no longer in the application mode, but in the gone mode? The quiet I hear at home this week could be permanent. The energy in the house will change. The dynamics will change.

I was the first to leave in my family, although I didn’t last long. I returned after one semester, but even when I left the second time and successfully stayed away, I was still the first of four to go. I didn’t see how the family dynamics shifted – and boy did they shift. Not only did I leave, my mother and stepfather had a baby at the same time. I thought leaving was hard, feeling like the family was continuing on without me, but now I see that being left isn’t so great either.

My husband was the last of four to leave and hated it. He was lonely and didn’t like having no one to deflect his parents’ attention from him. Those left behind have to reshuffle the spaces, filling in the gaps – I might use my older daughter’s room as my sewing room, and take a pottery class with my extra time - and continue on, while the one leaving is forging forward, having adventures, living a life of her own for the first time.

My younger daughter loves attention, and is easily annoyed when she feels her sister is getting more than her. But suddenly having her parents all to herself isn’t looking so good. “She got you alone when she was little and you played with her,” she said about her sister. “I’m going to get you alone when I’m a teenager and I’ll have to do all the chores she used to do.”

As I was preparing for my class Thursday morning in my cubicle, I was surprised to hear my phone ring and excited to see my older daughter’s name appear. She’s fiercely independent and calling when she’s away isn’t her style. She called to share exciting news. She had received her first acceptance to college. She was so happy and relieved. “Now I know I’m going to college next year,” she said, showing the fear I knew she carried.

After the morning call, I decided to stop on the way home with my younger daughter to buy flowers to celebrate. It wasn’t until I was in the car that I realized she was still in Denver. Duh. I forgot too.

I knew she’d get in somewhere, but now, I know she will be going away next year.

When I see my college students milling about after class, or listen to them talk about their lives outside of the classroom, I know I’m watching and listening to my daughter’s future. It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait to watch – even from a distance.

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