LILY AND ZOE
KNOWS their kids will leave home. You know it when they're
born:They're not yours forever. When my children were
handed to me in the hospital, I recall a surge of love
and joy. Dread didn't arrive until the shadowy hours.
What could happen to him or her? Would I be a good mother?
Would we be good parents? Would they be healthy? What
problems would we face? Birth brought ecstasy underlaid
know that the exquisite, fulfilling dance of parent and
child will end. At best, your children will grow up to
be productive adults. They'll leave home, lead great lives,
mail you photos of the grandkids, and show up on major
holidays. If you're lucky.
If you're not lucky, your children may die young, leaving
you to mourn their passage. Or they may turn into outlaws,
making you wonder what you did wrong. (Alternatively,
you may live in unexamined self righteousness, wondering
how life could give you such rotten kids.)
Being a parent is a complicated tango.
the years of Girl Scouts and class parties, of science
fairs and academic emergencies, my dread stayed underground.
It was like water flowing beneath an icebound river. Some
day, it would awaken and arise. Some day, the kids would
leave. But not now.
they grew to look like women instead of little girls,
I felt protected by the school system; they couldn't leave
until finishing twelfth grade. The inevitable was years
away. As my older daughter headed into her senior year
of high school, I knew we still had another year together.
She hated high school, of course; every day was torture
for her, but she was trapped.
like an adult walking around with a brunch of high school
kids," one of her teachers said. That was it; Zoe
didn't belong in high school. She was too mature, mentally
and emotionally. Telling her that I never felt at home
until I went to graduate school didn't help: She was seventeen
and graduate school was many years away.
didn't bother me much: Zoe would have another miserable
year, but she'd be with me.
in June, before what was to be her senior year, we heard
about Simon's Rock College, a small, liberal arts college
in eastern Massachusetts. Simon's Rock was the only college
in the country whose student body was exclusively kids
who'd moved on to college before they graduated from high
school. Most students arrived at Simon's Rock after their
sophomore year of high school, simply skipping the last
two years. The College was a very highly ranked school
for very bright students. Hearing about it, Zoe lit up
like a fireworks display. Freedom was at hand!
jumped into the application process, writing essays and
of the dorms at Simon's Rock College
a few weeks, I found myself on a jet, heading East with
my daughter. I didn't have another year with her: I had
a few days. Then, only hours.
began surfacing on the plane. I didn't feel it and couldn't
name it. I felt agitated and supercharged. When I saw
her dorm, anticipation turned to hyperactivity. I couldn't
leave her in that room. It wasn't any worse than dorm
rooms I've lived in, but I couldn't leave her in
that little hole. Not until it was cozy.
Launching ourselves into a foreign landscape, we drove
an unknown distance and found a discount mall. I was so
nervous that I was semi-hysterical. I had no clue: Denial
is a powerful and very useful defense mechanism. We bought
the most elegant bed set in that part of the state: pillows,
shams, the works. Several lamps. A couple of rugs. Fancy
towels that would bleed red dye until Easter and ruin
everything washed with them, in addition to rubbing off
plane was taking off, but I couldn't leave until I made
her bed. I put on the dust ruffle and fluffed the shams,
then carefully laid out the throw rug and tried the lamps.
I stood in the doorway and looked over the room: It would
do. My child had a nest. We hugged good-bye.
CHAPEL AT SIMON'S ROCK
didn't lose it at the school. I broke down in front of
the Massachusetts equivalent of Wal-Mart, and kept it
up all the way home.
called all the time; every day, at first. But I knew event
those contacts were ephemeral: We'd walked through a doorway.
We'd never be together in the same way.
Zoe was gone, but I still had The Little One. Lily, my
baby. We grew so close those years before it was time
for her to go. She had to leave, we all knew. She'd taken
all the courses available locally. She had to go.
was not so nice this time. Again, I became super charged.
Zoe was back, having graduated from Sarah Lawrence College
in New York. She loved every minute of Simon's Rock and
cruised on to and through Sarah Lawrence. Now she was
back, and the sisters planned on sharing an apartment.
the Santa Barbara housing market was the most expensive
in the country and one of the tightest. People lined up
on the sidewalks in hopes of snagging some little hovel.
How would they find a place?
vaulted into the process. They needed a safe, decent,
affordable place to live. I would find it. I find things:
I found Zoe when she got lost in the woods as a two year
old and the Sheriff was calling out the dogs. I would
find them a place to live in one of the toughest housing
markets in the world.
I did. It's monthly rent was more than our ranch's mortgage,
it was tiny, but it was theirs.
TO BE AN OWNER THAN A RENTER
tiny place cost a bundle. Wish I owned it.
my husband loaded the last of our leftover furnitureorphaned
chairs and slightly gnawed-by-the-last-puppy tablesinto
our horse trailer to set up their place, something inside
me groaned. This was it. The chicks were gone. They'd
come back to visit, but not to stay.
okay, I had a perfectly good, healthy husband that I loved
and who loved me. We had a bunch of horses. Two big ranch
dogs. That was fine. But my kids . . .
moped around, barely functioning. I felt drugged by loss,
pulled down by silence and empty places at the table.
I was lost. I couldn't fight it. One day, I walked around
the corner of the house feeling such paint that I leaned
against the stucco and sobbed. Was this a heart attack?
Was I dying? What could I do?
didn't get it. The girls were forty minutes away. They
called all the time. So what?
wasn't until he told a contractor friendanother man's man like himselfthat the girls
had left, that he began to understand.
Sandy?" the friend asked, truly concerned. "Oh,
boy, did my mom have a time . . ." And he proceeded
to enlighten Barry about women and their kids leaving.
"Then there was Mrs. . . . Boy, was she a mess. You
know, some women never get over it."
least he'd heard what our friend said. You'd think that
would get Barry would have been ready for what happened
next, but he wasn't. To find out what it was click on:
IN LOVE FOR THE FIRST TIME