My daughter went to Scotland over her college fall break. I’ve heard of kids leaving town, but this seemed extreme. At least we didn’t pay for it, and at least she’ll be in the states, (specifically our state) for the holidays. She’d returned to the U.K. after spending a spring semester abroad there to visit her friends, (specifically one) and I couldn’t blame her. It’s just she’s become so accustomed to tooling around Europe that I’m pretty sure she’s going reject the homeland. And me. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It shouldn’t be about me. Aggrieved old me. And you would be right. But still.
She already hinted at abandonment after she returned from her trip. “Mom, I think I might, just possibly, you know, apply to grad schools down the road, but just, probably I’ll take advantage of some gap time and go back to Europe right after I graduate.” I don’t know why she bothered to insert the embellishments because I think–I mean, maybe, I believe, no, I’m pretty damn sure that’s what she’s going to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Seriously. I just can’t figure out why after leaving for six months her junior year, (six months that morphed into nine) she wants to gap some more. (Yes, I am the clueless, aggrieved mother.)
About a week after her trip during a sleepy conversation on the phone she says, “Mom, I want to live abroad. You know, permanently.” Oh God, somebody please take my shredded heart and toss it into the garbage can.
“But Mom, YOU did it!”
Well . . . . yes, that’s true. I went to the U.K. for six months to do some post-graduate work and I didn’t come home for two years. I didn’t want to come home. Ever. In fact, I did everything I could—including dropping to my knees at the American Embassy and begging for suggestions—to stay. I’d fallen madly in love with a boy who didn’t deserve me, so I had to stay. I worked under the table while waiting on them, I attended a summer drama program to be near him, and then I attended the school’s full-year program to seal the deal. Dammit, if my sister had just delayed her wedding a few years I’d probably still be there. (BTW, the boy and I broke up in quite the undramatic fashion.)
Did I ever once think of my poor mother’s feelings while I contemplated my plans? No. I was smart enough to ask my father if I could stay put. He said, “Daughter, follow your dreams.” And I did. And I helped pay for them too. I got work with a fellow drama student performing standards at a piano bar. I slipped my own compositions in as well, which sweetened the job. We even started gigging outside the restaurant.
So maybe I was a hypocrite reprimanding my daughter a few months ago for busking in Berlin train stations. “You’re doing what?!” “I’m singing and playing my ukulele, Mom. And people like it. I made fifteen euros in an hour yesterday.” Lord, I would triple that if she would just stop her nerve-racking, risky behavior. She sensed our phone call was cardiac material and she stopped busking. (Maybe.) My poor mother. Thank God I didn’t tell her everything I did when I lived abroad.
I know my child from will travel/leave/abandon me one day. That’s what kids do. And it’s healthy for her to explore the way I did. But sometimes I can’t keep from gazing into her room. One afternoon, in a moment of particular weakness, I decided to read some Kahlil Gibran.
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
I’m not sure why this comforted me, but it did. So when I ask myself, “Why can’t she just stick around a little longer?” I recall that quote, and one more from a journal I kept 36 years ago:
“God, I can’t wait to get out of here. Mom’s driving me crazy. She wants me to join the booster club now. I’m 22 not 18. I’m not in high school again you know. It’s bad enough that I’m making Mark’s lunches and sorting out fricking spirit buttons. Shit. I’m counting the days. Two months before I go to London.”
Shelley Stolaroff Segal is a playwright, essayist, performer, and composer living in Greensboro, North Carolina. For more details check out her website at Shell Tells