Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve finally figured everything out?
And then… something happens and you realize – nope. You never had it figured out in the first place.
Like daycare. Daycare was a struggle. Staying on top of the fees, bringing in clothes, diapers, supplies, whatever the kids needed.
You probably think I’m a big whiner when I say that, but hear me out: I was a new mommy, a single mommy, a working mommy. It was tough getting all my stuff together.
I actually remember the moment when it all clicked.
I was standing in the principal’s office chatting with her. I’d had kids there for maybe four years, and seen her almost every day since then. It’s like what they say about marriage, right? Sickness, health, good times, bad times, phone calls about money, phone calls about… I don’t know, other stuff. And I realized there were no outstanding bills, the kids had all they need, I knew their teacher’s names, everyone was healthy and our routine ticked like clockwork.
I’d stuck with it and matured, grown up into a mama who was not just okay at the daycare routine – I totally ROCKED the daycare routine.
And then Elisheva Chaya graduated. Daycare over… check.
Elementary school… ditto. First one school, then another, learning the ropes, figuring out through trial and error how to interact with the teachers, how to get what the kids needed, how to help out in various useful volunteery ways, how to chat with the other parents during pickups and dropoffs.
It was all finally going so smoothly until one day… we were done with elementary school.
And then high school, more trial and error… mostly error. Not asking the questions, not having the stuff they needed, the books and uniforms and pencils all pointy, lined up in a row, not being prepared enough for parent-teacher interviews (forgetting which teacher taught what…).
A moment too late, or perhaps a couple of years or more, it occurs to me that I ought to have done more about the big kids’ university Things. What would I have done? What could I have done? No clue.
When we were still in Canada, we met YM’s girlfriend’s parents, who were busy hauling her to various universities all over the country so she could picture herself on different campuses, in different majors. And I thought, “yeah, maybe that’s what we should have done.”
What we actually did do about university was more along the lines of… (crickets)
One day, YM flopped down on the sofa and announced that he had 3 programs in mind, and asked which I thought would be best. And I discovered that I really did not have an opinion. I wasn’t picturing him in one program or another… I was just trying to picture him HAPPY.
(Did that make me a terrible mother, or an awesome one?)
When Elisheva Chaya was graduating from high school and choosing a seminary in Israel, I didn’t really have much advice beyond, “What school are your friends going to?” She picked one, and seems happy enough. Did we pick right? Wrong? I have no idea how we will ever even know.
But at least now, a moment too late, I have some sense of the questions I should have been asking two years ago.
Now she’s talking about getting ready to apply for various university/college programs for next year, when she’s finished seminary. And I can’t help thinking there’s SOMETHING I ought to be doing, saying, asking, counselling her. I’ll probably figure out exactly what that is right around the time she graduates.
Meanwhile, the younger kids are going to school in Israel. Almost everything I learned about sending kids to elementary school (see above) in Canada completely Does Not Apply here. “Your North American parenting knowledge is no good here, ma’am.” So I’m back to learning the ropes all over again.
Naomi Rivka brought home a field trip note last month demanding that I send her to school on the day of the trip with 4 litres of water and “half a lemon.” Another field trip earlier in the year had also demanded half a lemon.
(Remember, this time around I’m not just READING the notes, but reading and TRANSLATING the notes from Hebrew, so this is a complicated process, and I don’t always know if I know what “half a lemon” means. In this case, I was pretty sure.)
“What’s the half-lemon for?” I asked her.
Luckily, a second note clarified: the half-lemon… is for motion sickness. Yet another thing I’d never heard of, after 15 years of sending kids on field trips. I’m sure there will be many more, just when I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.
(Does it work? You tell me.)
But is this not the bitter-sweetest thing about parenting? This moment when we realize… it’s too late.
Am I the only parent experiencing this?
It starts at birth. The minute you get their sleep schedule straightened out… they start teething. Or they get sick, or they start eating solids, or you have to travel to a different time zone.
The minute you’ve assembled a decent wardrobe so they can look good and play comfortably… they grow. The seasons change. Something rips.
The minute you figure out they like Legos, black forest cake, Nancy Drew books, suddenly they’re not interested in seeing another Lego, or maraschino cherry, or girl detective again as long as they live.
The minute you learn the exact right bedtime sequence of stories, songs, music box, kisses, squeaky goodnight voices to all the dolls, and the perfect crack-width to leave the door open to let in the light… and then, a moment too late, they’re 45 years old and living on the other side of the world.
I know I will never catch up. Never.
But as long as I live and mommy, I will always be racing, running, out of breath and reaching out to touch them, to hold onto them, to do what I can for them even if – because I’m human and so are they – it will absolutely never be enough. I will always arrive at the moment where I need to be just exactly a moment too late.
Maybe you know the feeling?