Loco Parentis: So Far Away

My daughter is having an adventurous life of her own, without me. Is it time for me to follow her lead?

Your instinct, as a parent, is to pare down your caring, block out extraneous pleas for your attention, turn away from Africa and Afghanistan to keep the focus on your children. Marcy is forcing me to open that aperture wider, to admit entire hitherto-uncared-for continents into my field of vision — to fret about whether Susan’s suitor in Kenya will be able to afford 15 cows, and whether the drug murders in Chihuahua will trickle south to Oaxaca. Some mothers, no doubt, would seize the opportunity to grow and learn more about the wide world. I’m not one of those mothers. I like my world insular — small hometown, small home office, small circle (okay, triangle) of friends.

She’s outdistancing me. I drive to Dicklenburg to bring her back for the summer, and her stuff overflows the station wagon. It doesn’t fit in her room at home; she requisitions a corner of the living room, and space in the basement and garage. She isn’t just getting an education; she’s acquiring a life, complete with things she buys herself with money she earns — a lamp, flip-flops, a coffee maker. Every step she takes toward independence is a step away from me.

I try not to take this personally.

It’s hard, though. Home for the summer, she stays out, all night, at her boyfriend’s. Doug doesn’t have a problem with this. I do. I try to frame it as “a bad influence on your little brother” thing, but I don’t think Jake even notices. I don’t really have a moral leg to stand on, either; there aren’t religious issues, and Marcy knows her dad and I lived together before we got married. It’s just … another step I’m not ready for.

And even if I were inclined to tag along after her, to head to Oaxaca and ride out to see her on that burro, I’ve arrived at an age that argues against such adventuresome plans. My ankles ache after my weekly volleyball game; my knee hurts when I drive for more than an hour. Serving at tennis aggravates my elbow. I’m just waiting for the next body part to go.

Maybe that’s what’s really behind my disapproval of her excursions, both overseas and overnight. I remember perfectly clearly — there’s nothing wrong with my brain, yet — what it was like to explore the world alongside a lover, to be in love without any of the accoutrements that condition eventually leads to: dying station wagons, mortgages, collapsed front porches, college tuition bills. Marcy’s reached the peak of freedom in life just as I seem to be mired deepest in its drudgery.

I know I should be gracious, should hand off the next-generation baton with a kiss and a wave. Why should I envy my daughter? What Doug and I have is time-honored, miraculously long-lasting, rich and deep and wide.

What it isn’t very often, anymore, is giddy or unplanned.

It’s inevitable, I suppose, that love, like life, becomes more cumbersome. But the heart doesn’t forget the rush of being loosed from its moorings, can’t quite — safe at rest, at harbor — efface the recollection of those dizzy, headlong trips into the wilderness.

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