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New Ships

The 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 dinner.

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 was.

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 the fence.

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 with that.

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.”

If 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.

—Jo Page

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