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Life’s Way Station August 31, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Motherhood, Parenting, popular culture, Women's Issues.
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Empty-Nest-%232My nest is empty.

On Saturday, Mr. Kitchen Table and I took our daughter two hours down the interstate and left her in a tiny cinder-block room in a city where she knows nobody.  Of course, this place is commonly known as a college dormitory and countless parents have made the same trip – but to us it felt like abandonment of the highest order.  My anxiety was boundless, both before the drop-off and since, though I truthfully believe that we feel more abandoned than she ever would.

I really thought that this would not affect me this way.  John and I have been rather looking forward to this.  If you ever shared a house with a self-centered 18-year old girl, you would understand why.  We were so very tired of arguing the same arguments over and over again because, of course, nobody knows more than a self-centered 18-year old girl.  We were so ready!

Also, John and I had spent a few years just the two of us before she came along.  We went places on the spur of the moment, stayed in bed all day with the Sunday paper, and spent money on frivolous things.  We always knew exactly where our car was, the towels were always hung up in the bathroom, there were no piles of junk on our dining room table, and when we reached in our pockets – there was usually some money.  We were really anticipating getting at least something of those days back. 

What we didn’t anticipate is the overwhelming emotion.  As our daughter stood in the middle of her dorm room (which, to me, looked vaguely reminiscent of the cells in “Lockup” on MSNBC), all I could see was a little girl in her plaid Holy Family Elementary School uniform beaming with excitement on her first day of school.  I saw the anxious face of the first-time Girl Scout camper as we waved goodbye for a week of camp.  I heard the laughter of my companion on our various road trips and the cries of a high-school freshman that lost a schoolmate to a car accident.  I felt the arms that surrounded and comforted me when my parents died.  Then, I saw a beautiful and confident young woman standing there and almost didn’t recognize her. 

I said goodbye to her through some tears and hurried to get to the car.  I am ashamed to admit that since we dropped her off, I have sent four text messages and made two phone calls.  I need to constantly reassure myself that she’s OK.  Though I might have glimpsed an adult standing in that dorm room, I still have a little girl, whether she thinks so or not. 

Right now, my daughter and I are parked in one of life’s way stations.  She’s too grown up to live with curfews and restrictions, but not mature enough to be totally independent.  For me, I need some time to be able to trust in her and completely let go.  I think this must be why they invented resident colleges, to hold you in semi-independence until you are really ready to be out on your own.

My nest may be empty, but most of my friends who have already gone through this have told me not to worry.  Often, the chicks come back and fill it up again – which is a totally other column!


For My Father June 20, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Dad, Father's Day, popular culture.
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IheartDAD02Is there another relationship that is as complex as that of a daughter and her father?  My daughter and husband have this kind of jokey, semi-obnoxious relationship with each other.  It makes for a lot of laughs, but it worries me sometimes.  After all, I tell my husband what every woman knows – that he is the yardstick by which our daughter will measure every other man that comes into her life.  What an awesome responsibility – and something that every loving father needs to keep in mind as he relates to his daughters.

My father, Albert Stockman, was a “man’s man”.  A builder by trade, I remember he smelled like sawdust and cigarettes.  I still cannot smell sawdust without being reminded of him.  He wore flannel shirts and work boots – but looked great in a suit.  He was tall and handsome and had the ruggedness of the man that works outside.  He was an avid hunter and outdoorsman – but he was devoted to my Mom and us kids.  He was smart – but never read a book that didn’t have pictures in it.  He started college after he got out of the Army but he never finished because he had a wife and children to support.  It didn’t matter.  He was well known as a talented designer and draftsman.  There are many houses and buildings around the area that are his handiwork.

My Dad and I were not really close when I was a girl.  I think I confused – and worried – him in many ways.  As a product of the 40’s and 50’s, Dad had some definite ideas about how a daughter should behave.   She should be quiet and submissive, learn the domestic arts, and make sure she married well enough to be taken care of.  Boy, I did SO not fit the bill.  I was loud and argumentative, fierce and opinionated, and managed to disappear (usually into the bathroom) when housework needed to be done.   Dad and I struck some sparks off each other, that’s for certain.

Something changed for us when I went away to college, though.  I think my father began seeing how much like my mother I was, and one thing was certain, he really loved her.  They had trouble and hard times in 49 years of marriage, but there was never any doubt that they were in love. 

Suddenly, Dad and I began to talk to each other.  We discussed life, current events, history, and politics.  That was one area where we never really saw eye to eye.  My father was as Republican as they come, and even when I was nominally Republican, we still disagreed.  He softened on a lot of his viewpoints as he got older, though.  I like to think it was because I had some influence.

I can, however, pinpoint the time I felt closest to my father.  It was when my mother was first taken to the hospital for her lung disease.  He and I were in the ICU waiting room when the doctors came in and told us the only way to save her life was to put her on a respirator.  The danger, they said, was that she may not be able to come off of it.  He did not hesitate and immediately gave his approval.  I grabbed his hand and said, “Dad, I’m really scared.”

He answered back with a reassuring squeeze.  “I am, too,” he said.

My mother’s illness was long.  Dad took care of her absolutely.  He ended up helping her wash and dress.  He pounded on her back to loosen the gunk in her lungs and made sure she took her medicine.  Later, after she had to have a tracheotomy, he put a tube down her neck and suctioned out her lungs.  He cooked, he cleaned, he did laundry.  He sat by her bedside through multiple hospitalizations.

I never thought that he’d go first.

On January 9, 2005, my sister called me at 6:30 in the morning and asked me to come and help her get my Dad to the hospital.  He fell while he was getting dressed and seemed confused.  We thought he had had a stroke.  Later, the results of the CAT scan came back.  There was a large mass covering the left half of his brain.  He was scheduled for surgery immediately.

The day of the operation, we were alone in his hospital room for some reason.  I held his hand and I told him I loved him.  He winked and said he loved me, too. 

“Dad,” I said.  “I’m scared.”

He squeezed my hand and said,  “I am, too”

We found out that Dad had managed to come down with the deadliest brain tumor possible.  The neurologist told us that even with radiation and chemotherapy, most patients died within six months.  Dad lived five.

The night he died, June 10, we gathered at my parent’s home.  Hospice had helped us keep him home – that’s where he wanted to die.  I sat with him for hours just listening to his labored breathing.  He was struggling so hard. 

I was a mess of emotion that night.  While I certainly wanted this nightmare to end for my father, I couldn’t bear to see him go.  While my parents were faithful Catholics, the best way to describe me would be as a “dubious” Catholic.  I did not have the faith they had.  But I knew that he thought he would be going to a better place, so I just tried to let go. 

I took his hand.  This time, it didn’t close around mine.  I told him that he had been a great father, that I loved him, and that I would miss him.  I whispered, “Dad, I’m so scared.”

This time, there was no answering squeeze.  This time, there was no wink and “I am, too.” 

I like to think it’s because this time, he was not.  I love you, Dad.