The last days went down just as I imagined. Packed up the rented Jeep Cherokee and drove up to Massachusetts alone, a half hour behind my daughters who navigated the Prius that they’ll have with them at college. Unpacked my younger daughter – the freshman – then walked around campus while she took care of administrivia. Sat through the convocation, then met my younger daughter and escorted her to the “kiss-and-cry” area in front of the Louis Brandeis statue, mumbling a quavering good-bye-and-good-luck-and-Daddy-would-be-so-proud-of-you with my sunglasses over my eyes so she wouldn’t see the tears. Caught up with my older daughter, already gabbing a mile a minute with her suite mates and quad mates who she hadn’t seen since last winter when she left for a semester abroad in Israel. Along with her roommate’s mom, we treated the girls to pizza to celebrate their senior year, and then it was back to the hotel to finish up a draft of a complaint and the next day, back on the road in my now barren vehicle. Goodbye to all that.
Of course, that’s just me trying to be cool by channelling Joan Didion . Last week’s farewell to my daughters wasn’t a final goodbye; I now know from past experience that I’ll visit my girls on their turf and they’ll return home, and while it won’t be the same as it used to be, we’ll still have as much fun as we always did back in the day when we played Jail in the swimming pool or visited galleries in DC just to see Lady on the Pot or the Ruby Red Slippers, or hung out in Trafalgar Square in London, watching the Summer Olympics on the Jumbotron or gorged on three musicals on a short jaunt to New York last summer. That stuff won’t really change.
But I did say a permanent goodbye last week. When I dropped my daughters off and retreated home, I turned in my cape and bid farewell to the Superhero Mom that I was day in and day out for 21 years but never realized until now. Keep in mind, that when I refer myself a Superhero, I am not even remotely suggesting that I had it all together. To the contrary, I absolutely did not. I lived in a constant state of entropy, the messiness of the house increasing with each new project that I took on; at least once a week I experienced the heart-pounding stress of trying to make it to pick up on time (which rivals the palpitations of waiting for a jury verdict), I fell short more times than I can count, and more often than not, gave up on perfection and settled for a B+ . (well, C+ if I’m really being honest).
And yet, looking back through the haze, I also remember those days when I was on fire: the mornings when I woke at 5 a.m. after working until 1 a.m., when I could sit down at my keyboard and pound out half a memo before 7:30 when my older daughter would wake up for her first feeding or when I had to bring my 6 month old with me to a D.C. Circuit mediation and she crawled around under the table and then had to leave before we settled on attorneys fees to change a stinky diaper and two weeks later got the ruling awarding triple what I would have taken, or when I plopped down on a park bench to nurse my two year old in public (drawing compliments from more militant nursing moms who praised me because they thought I was making a political statement) while taking a client phone call because…well, because what else could I do? Somehow, in the midst of all that crazy, my husband and I made it work.
This past week, even with two looming deadlines, most of my days are nearly as empty as the rental jeep that I drove home from Boston. And because nature abhors a vacuum, I filled them pleasantly with this and that: Shabbat dinner with friends, a few visits to my fancy gym, painted my ugly kitchen table and took my weekly trip to the farmer’s market with my fluffy white pooch to buy produce for me and a bone for her. Even with two college tuitions hanging over my head this year, the truth is that my life is easier than it’s ever been. Nothing wrong with that. But I do miss those crazy, hectic, chaotic days times when I couldn’t catch my breath but still felt invincible each time I managed to get through the day. That superhero is no more; I left her behind somewhere on the road between Boston and Bethesda, and said goodbye to all that.
From where I now sit, it’s easy to see why things like work-life balance or the percentage of women partners at law firms never changes. Because just like the pain of childbirth, the memories of those wild and frenetic days dissipate and those in charge eventually forget what it was like when they were young and in constant motion. Objectively speaking, raising kids and holding down a job (even if that job is supporting the family by staying home) is multiple degrees of magnitude more difficult than when you don’t have them. But of course, no one wants to admit that – so instead, your older colleagues who once occupied your same shoes criticize you for failing to keep pace with them, or not having your priorities straight without nary a word of sympathy about just how hard it can be.
So now that I’ve said goodbye to all that, here is what I want to say to you — my readers who are parents, scrambling like crazy to raise your kids and pay off loans and save for college and grow your practice and maybe just set aside a little bit of time for a conversation with your spouse or partner or parent or friend. Know this: You are invincible. You are powerful and capable. You are an incredible rockstar Superhero; you are Sisyphus rolling that rock up the mountain day after day after day, experiencing only the struggle but never the sense of accomplishment. Someday all too soon, you too will be driving down a lonely highway in a cavernous van, looking back on those frantic days as they recede in the rearview mirror and wonder why you never took the time to take a breath, look around and realize just how freaking awesome you were back then.
For at least a decade, I’ve done an annual back to school post – you can see the collection below:
End of an Era (8/2016)
Second to Last First Day (9/2015)
The Girl Is Gone (8/2014)
Last Picture Show (8/2013)
The Way of Life (9/2012)
Whoosh, They’re Gone (6/2010)
Off They Go (9/2009)
The Front Row 10/2009