other night Linnea and I were driving over to the Macaroni
Grill to meet her sister, Madeleine, for dinner. We hadn’t
been in ages.
Madeleine texted Linnea. She was going to be a little late—had
to cash her paycheck in order to go grocery shopping after
While we waited, Linnea talked to me about her trip to New
York over winter break. How she found a dress for senior gala
on sale at Betsey Johnson. I had expected to be with her when
she picked out her gala dress.
Madeleine had been in New Orleans over break, helping clear
and reconstruct houses. It’s the second trip she’s made. I’m
always amazed to see pictures of the little girl who was afraid
of ladybugs wearing work boots and wielding a crow bar. Or
drinking a bottle of beer.
She arrives. We order.
The menu is more or less the same as it’s always been. It’s
we who are different. Or not we, but them. My daughters.
We used to come here with their dad, even after he and I were
divorced. It was always a treat. We would order those tumblers
of the house Chianti and the girls would get some kind of
elaborate smoothie that always seemed expensive for what it
For a few years there was a singer who roamed the room. When
she came to our table and began her song, I never knew where
to look. The kids’ dad would stare up at her, rapt. But the
girls would squirm, a little embarrassed, and happy when the
song was over.
They always colored on the heavy white paper covering the
tables. We all did. There is a marked difference in our drawing
talents. Let’s just say that I’m drawing disabled and Madeleine’s
skills fall somewhere in between mine and Linnea’s—now in
the midst of applying to art schools. She used to draw panels
from the cartoon series she’d invented—“Kinetic Cub and Power
Pup”—and Pup and Cub made regular appearances on the tablecloth.
We also used to play a lot of hang-man. I like hangman. But
nobody will play it with me. The kids have outgrown it. And
I just can’t see myself out to lunch with a friend whipping
out a tablet for quick round while waiting for our lobster
bisques and Chardonnays.
Tonight Linnea is drawing possible patterns for the tattoo
she wants to get. She’s torn between one of a linnea flower
or the Celtic symbol for friendship.
Madeleine has brought along her laptop and is showing us pictures
of New Orleans. And yes, that’s her on Bourbon Street, laden
with beads. That’s her with the post-hole digger, re-building
I realize that, overall, I have little to say. The conversation
doesn’t exclude me, exactly. It’s just that I’m not central
to it. And as a parent you spend so many years being the object
of your children’s fascination and then, later, speculation,
that it feels nigh onto lonely to realize my daughters have
their own interests, their own lives, their own opinions that
more and more don’t depend on or include me.
I know, it’s that give-them-roots-and-wings thing. I should
be happy—they know how to fly. Surely I had something to do
And I am happy, as well as proud of both of them. They’re
not as lost as I was at their age, not as apt to make poor
choices as I was (yes, that explains those boyfriends . .
Still, I recognize that I am entering a new threshold in parenting
in which their need for me is not even remotely as great as
it was just a few years ago. So I can’t help but ask myself
the question—do I have anything to offer them now,
beyond the obvious material things?
And as I grow less central to their lives, what does my
life mean? I’ve had tremendous joy in raising my daughters—and
there’s just not that much raising left for me to do.
I have lots of friends who have no children. And though I
will always be a mother, I look to those who are not parents
to see how they live, what life is like without kids around,
how they conceive of using their time (in parenting so much
of your time is already spoken for).
I guess it’s neither good or bad, this phase that sees my
children more on their own than ever. But right now, for me
it seems a melancholy thing.
Those lines from the T.S. Eliot poem, “Marina,” always spoke
to my understanding of what parenting was about: “let me/Resign
my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken/The awakened,
lips parted, the hope, the new ships.”
it is no longer needed that I ‘resign my life,’ then maybe
the hope, the new ship to seek, is what that life really is.