The Missed Farewell
by Kristin Guay
If you are the parent of an older child let me ask you a question: when was the last time you picked up and carried your child? Can you remember the exact moment or the exact circumstance?
My 18-year-old daughter came across this information one day and shared it with me – there is a distinct instant (barring certain circumstances) that is the last time a parent carries their child.
She shared this information as I was hastily preparing dinner. I remember thinking about what she said in between steaming the vegetables, feeding the dog and loading the washing machine. The more I though about it, the more this concept unnerved me.
I guess I really never noticed. I was so accustomed to carrying my children for so many years, with an obviously gradual release. So gradual, that I didn’t even notice when it was the last time my children needed me for easy transportation.
First, there were the papoose-style baby carriers that cradled my daughters close to my chest while I moved about, with both hands free, to handle any required task of a new mother.
Next came the stage when my daughters wanted to walk independently and carrying was based on time constraints, melt downs, fatigue, safety, or a little of all four.
The last stage involved the occasional pick up, when they were at the early elementary age. Maybe we were at a parade and they could not see over the heads of people in the front. Maybe we were approached by an over enthusiastic dog at a local park. Maybe it was even an exuberant jump that landed in my arms because my daughter just received the best gift for their birthday.
I’m sure parents can reflect on their own experiences and see how this happened in their family – maybe it was even a little different between sons and daughters. Regardless of your experience, there was an exact moment when it was the last time – and you did not even know it. There was no celebration, no tears, no joy, no special recognition whatsoever.
Now that I think about it, I wonder what other parenting experiences were the “lasts”.
Years ago, I stopped my goodnight kissing ritual with my now 14-year old daughter. The worse part is that I don’t even remember how or when this ceased to be part of our bedtime routine. For that matter, I do not even remember how it began.
It was an adorable little routine consisting of seven kisses in a specific pattern on her face. But now that’s gone, along with sipping orange smoothies while floating on a raft in a pool on hot summer days, reading bedtime stories while cuddled up on a Hello Kitty comforter, making school lunches for my oldest daughter who is a strict vegetarian, and of course, the magic and wonder of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
So many important milestones have passed and I never had a chance to appreciate their significance in our family and bestow upon these rituals their proper farewell.
Our family life was like a crazy quilt, with no set pattern or color scheme. Similar to the unique pieces on a quilt, we all had our individual personalities. Sometimes we had soft curves and smooth contours, other times we had more sharp points and severe edges.
Our rituals were the colored thread that connected these erratic shapes, creating one beautiful complete tapestry.
I found that when I was the parent of young children, our family life was a huge blur of soccer games, sleepovers, music and dance recitals, trips to the playground, crafts with glue and glitter, Dora the Explorer, stuffed animals, snow cones, warm chocolate chip cookies, birthday parties, children’s zoo, Winnie-the-Pooh and a constant revolving door of pets.
The hours turned to days, days turned to months, months turned to years, and before I knew it, my husband and I were dropping off our oldest daughter at college, in Washington, D.C. That was the day I realized that there are some things I will never do again with my children. A sobering realization.
It’s not that I don’t cherish the time with my daughters now. I do. Pool time has been replaced by mother-daughter gym workouts. Bedtime stories replaced by insightful talks in an intimate coffee shop. Vegetarian lunches replaced with chicken lunches for a daughter whose idea of a vegetable is a French fry.
The magic of celebrated holidays has been replaced by special family trips. We no longer stay home for whatever holiday-related character will leave colorfully wrapped gifts, a white wicker basket with chocolates, or a crisp one dollar bill sprinkled with pixy dust, courtesy of a fairy that enjoys collecting baby teeth.
Would I have done anything different if I knew that a particular moment was the last time I would have that experience?
Life does not work that way.There are many times in our lives where we are very conscious that what we are experiencing might be our last of that particular experience.
Several years ago, our family traveled to Lucerne, Switzerland, for the winter break. On our last night, after we’d enjoyed an amazing fondue dinner, we were walking back across the Chapel Bridge to our hotel when we stopped to appreciate the amazing vista and say our goodbyes.
My husband and I told our daughters that we hoped they would return some day, but we did not think we would be back. As we stood on this bridge, we reflected on all we’d experienced that week. We talked about our favorite moments and expressed our gratitude that we were able to take this amazing family journey.
With an early morning train ride looming, we turned and walked back to our hotel, having had closure with that event in our lives.
Maybe that is the problem: I’ve never really had closure with all the other milestones of parenthood.
It reminds me of the end of the movie, The Polar Express, when one child is allowed to select the first gift of the holiday season. He chooses the silver bell, which Santa then holds up high for all to see, and declares in his booming voice and grand fashion “The first gift of the season.”
Elves and children cheer enthusiastically, reindeer wrench against the grip of their harnesses and Santa carefully places the silver bell into the hands of the grateful child.
I never had the opportunity to hold up Miss Rumphius and declare, “Our last book read together in childhood.” However, as I reflect on this, I think there is a very good reason for that. How sad it must be to think you are doing the last of a special activity.
Perhaps many of us have experienced a time in our lives that was the end of something very important, like holding a loved one’s hand as they pass away, we leaving a home, family and friends to accommodate a job. We may have even cradled a beloved pet that needed to be euthanized.
These are all significant events that are difficult, but they are a very important part of our lives. The ending of small milestones in childhood often lurk below the radar and go undetected. Do we remember the last time we walked hand-in-hand with our child, watched a cartoon together, or made shaped sugar cookies and decorated them with colorful icing and sprinkles?
When children grow up, we are gradually released from these special rituals that make up the sweet memories of their childhood.
I did have a brief moment where I was able to give due celebration to a ritual I had performed for 13 years – making lunch for school.
My oldest daughter was approaching her last two weeks of high school and I saw my opportunity. I realize many high school students make their own lunches but this was something that I actually enjoyed doing and my two daughters humored me on this issue.
To acknowledge and celebrate the ending of this ritual, I decided that I would make gourmet lunches for the remaining school days of her senior year. This included a special vegetarian dish, dessert, drink and a colorful patterned napkin.
I carried out my mission and was proud of myself for beating the system. However, I did not really beat the system. I now realize that I will never give her a ride to school, attend a meet-the teacher event or really know all her classmates as I have these past many years. She is starting a new journey that I will not be intimately a part of – the college experience.
Maybe I needed this reflection time to make me more aware and engaged in the present. I am now much more conscious of our time together as a family. I am so grateful for the time when I have both daughters under the same roof. We enjoy taking the dog for a walk, long dinner conversations and watching movies together.
My refrigerator has more veggie selections when my daughter is home from college. I have learned to celebrate and treasure these moments because I know they could be the last of that moment. I guess that could be true for many things in life.
We now cherish that week in December we spent in a cottage in Quechee, Vermont, because we may not go back to that exact spot. We now cherish a late summer sunset picnic we had at Millway Beach because we will never be able to create that moment again for our family. We now cherish the time we watched the first snowfall of the season while enjoying tea and finger sandwiches at Dunbar House Tea Room.
I find that I experience events in my life a little differently now than I did before. I savor the moment, observe everything I can about the moment and I express gratitude for that moment.
I acknowledge that whatever I am doing at that time is a special moment in my life and will be treasured forever.
Kristin Guay recently traded in the white sand beaches of southern Florida for the New England coast, relocating to Cape Cod with her husband, two daughters, and beloved black lab. She could not be happier.
Kristin, who spent the past several years as a middle school language arts teacher, has taken a sabbatical from teaching to focus on expanding her horizons with writing projects and voracious reading.
Her passion is literacy, at all ages, and she enjoys projects that foster a love of reading and writing in both young children and teens. She is especially fond of the work of William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck and enjoys sharing this literature with her students.
Kristin enjoys writing about interesting people and events, and sharing random musings that swirl in her head.
You can contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org.