I just got off the phone with my daughter. I listened while she shared the joys and challenges that young mothers go through. She is a strong woman; protective of her boys and will never let anyone walk over her. That’s good as she is NASA’s Life Support engineer. I thought, “This is the way it is supposed to be, raising your children to be independent gradually, and then they are gone, raising their own children.” Now my oldest daughter goes to soccer games, school activities, and even challenging injustices toward her children, just like I did for her and her brothers: She now is loving and fighting for her children.
When she was younger I enrolled her in a singing and dancing group to help foster a sense of confidence. She and her “Sunshine Generation” friends sang in public venues such as singing in malls, school events and the big Six Flags’ performance. As she went through school, she joined different groups and was gone more and more with each activity, particularly the band, where she played flute. Her self-confidence grew. Then off to college. First it was Georgia Southern and then Georgia Tech.
She and her family live in Florida. Facebook posts their growing family history. She is one of the most confident women that I know, and I shake off the knowledge that so much time has passed, and I think, “This is the way it is supposed to be.”
My oldest son, the middle child, was easygoing, the peacemaker. As a little boy, he had an infectious smile, and was compassionate toward those less fortunate. Once, he shared his lunch with a homeless person on a school trip to a museum. Independence starts with small steps. At fast food restaurants, usually McDonalds, I would have him and his siblings, order what they wanted without me nearby. I watched from my seat. Most of the time, the cashiers acknowledged them. Sometimes, because they were “just kids,” they were ignored. During these times, the mommy anger grew; and just as I would start to get up to make sure that my kids were served and not ignored, they were finally served. Today, my oldest son is an officer in the navy, a helicopter pilot and a NROTC professor in Washington, D.C. He travels the world sometimes with friends; sometimes by himself. When we see him, my mind goes back to me pushing him in the tree swing, or desperately trying to find him when he took off at about four to go swimming in the city pool by himself. He always had a forceful independent streak. He still does. Last time we saw him, I watched him drive away (I always watch my grown children drive away) to head for the Atlanta airport to head back to the capitol, not knowing when I’ll see him again. His life is full and busy. I think wistfully, “This is the way it is supposed to be.”
My youngest son is closer to home. After graduating UGA, he changed fields and now is at Emory Universitym, thoroughly enjoying what he is doing. When he was small, I would tell him, “Do what you love. You’ll never regret it. Sure you have to pay the bills, but follow your passion.” Unlike his sister, who knew she wanted to work for NASA since childhood, he travelled different paths, until he found his passion. And he wasn’t afraid to start over and try something new. In my youngest, I see an exceptionally high ability to get along with people of all ages. I learn from him, as I do all of my children. And, I think as I wave goodbye, “This is the way it is supposed to be.”
We have one daughter at home. We watch for her abilities, passions and guide her along those paths. We foster independence in small ways, and then those opportunities will grow. Until one day, she will be the last one who leaves for college. It will be just the two of us, for a different time in our lives. And with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I’ll try to tell myself, “This is the way it is supposed to be.”
Penny Cliff is the Chief Archivist at the Thomaston-Upson County Archives, and an Adjunct Faculty member in the History Department at Gordon State College in Barnesville.