…THE DAYS ARE LONG, BUT THE YEARS ARE SHORT
August 29, 2017
Gabby leaves for college in a few days. Similar to when she was born and had a blank slate to life; she is now beginning a brand new chapter of her life with a blank slate. This time she is beginning with a host of 18 years worth of experiences created through childhood behind her. Anything is possible. Some of the potential possibilities are controllable, and others are circumstantial.
Two years ago I wrote my first blog about the experience of Thomas leaving for college (A Cold August Morning). It’s hard to imagine that half of his college years have elapsed and Gabby is now leaving the nest too.
It’s not any easier. It’s just as beautiful, yet heartbreaking. It is actually like a piece of me leaves with them. I feel emotionally like I’m giving birth again, and a piece of me is being taken away from me. There is an emptiness in my body. I know from the experience with Thomas that they pain goes away after a few days, very similar to the way a body heals itself after the birthing process.
I’ve spent much of this summer off the grid and taking care of a very intimate, private matter. Perhaps one day I will consider blogging about it, but for now it’s very personal and may always stay as such. It also happens to be a transformational time of my life with my youngest biological child morphing into an adult and going out into the world solo before my very eyes. I have spent some time journaling, contemplating, and thinking about the passage of time. Certain experiences will string together to create a future you cannot yet see or imagine. At the time you have no idea how important certain things are.
Gabby is beginning the journey cut off from the age and necessary schooling restrictions that kept her close to me and under my care for the past 18 years. I’m so excited, scared, and happy for her. I wish I could keep being there in the day-to-day, knowing when she gets home from work, what she is wearing, etc. But that is unhealthy. It’s time for me to let her use the wings I helped her to grow.
How did my experiences get me to this point in time?
October 1994 – One fine morning around 3am
I am 18 years old. I am freshly out of Coast Guard boot camp and on watch of my first duty station on the USCGC Boutwell. I am standing my first “mids” watch in port. It’s dark, I smell diesel, and I can barely make out the visuals of my new surroundings. I hear water lapping up against the hull and my feet hurt in these dress shoes I’m wearing in the middle of the night. I am on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, CA. It’s a little chilly and I’m wearing an issued jacket over my uniform that isn’t very warm.
I’m standing watch with a BPOW (brow petty officer of the watch) on the brow of the ship. My role is that of the messenger. Sometime around 3am I am instructed to wake up the folks who are on the 4-8am watch shift. My thoughts become slightly fearful… wake people up? I thought about how I was woken up around 11pm, by a male voice. It is still a bit strange and new to me to be in close quarters with strangers; and even more so, to be exchanging such intimacies with males such as waking someone up. Until now it didn’t dawn on me that I would have to do that too. Earlier the BPOW walked me through who I was to wake up and where their berthing area was on the ship. I took notes. I have 4 people to wake up. One is a female and the other three are male. Of the three guys, two are in the same birthing area and one is in another. I plan to start with the female to get my feet wet, then the single male, and then the doubles. I glance at their names on the list. Everyone addresses one another by their last name. I don’t know many people yet and I don’t know any of these folks. One of the names is Messeder. He will be my direct replacement as Messenger of the watch. Messeder the Messenger I smile quietly to myself.
October 1994 – That same fine day around 1pm or so…
As the daily work is drawing to a close, I am assigned to sweep the port side of the ship with a handful of other Seamen. I am sweeping not far from someone I am pretty sure I hadn’t seen before. His hat covers most of his face since he is looking down as he sweeps. When I’m not paying attention I hear him say said “Hello DeGrazia”. I look up. He has a semi-confident/semi-nervous smile. I think to myself I haven’t seen this one before, I would remember him because he is cute. He has a nice crooked smile and eyes that seemed familiar, almost like I should know them. I look down at the nametag on his working blue shirt. Messeder.
Messeder and I are out on a Sunday afternoon. At some point in the past 10 months, I started calling Messeder by his first name, John. We have been dating a few months. However, since dating is prohibited amongst shipmates; we need to stay clear of any places we may be spotted.
This particular cool, sunny August afternoon we drive south from my apartment in San Leandro toward San Jose. We have no plans other than explore the area and hang together. Somehow we hap chance upon a Zucchini festival in Hayward, CA. We walk around, eat fried zucchini and play some games. We walk toward the end of the festival and onto the side walked street. We continue to walk a few blocks until we find ourselves in front of a movie theater playing a movie called Nine Months. Since the movie is a few weeks old, it only costs a dollar. We decide to watch it.
In the movie, the unexpected pregnant main female lead reads the book “What to Expect when you’re Expecting” and wanted the baby’s father to read it as well. He wasn’t interested, they fought and broke up… and in the fairy tell end; he read the book and was there for her when she had their baby.
Nearly 4 years later
It’s late in the afternoon on a weekday. It’s warm, bright and sunny. All the windows are open in our Cape Cod unit on Otis Air force base. John and I are now married for 3 ½ years. I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and reading. We have a two year old named Tommy and I’m 8 months pregnant with number two.
I’m rereading the same book I read with Tommy “What to Expect when you’re Expecting”. Apparently this book is quite popular amongst parents to be. With both pregnancies each month I read the chapter that corresponded with my gestational timeline to learn more about what was happening inside my body and the baby.
Since I’m 8 months pregnant I decide to read the 9th month and the closing chapter as well. I don’t remember reading this with Tommy, but the book writes something to the effect of how crazy and messy the house and life will be once the bundle of joy comes home, and it will be like that for years to come. However, once that little baby grows up and goes off to college; and the house is in pristine condition and quiet once again – you will miss the sound of chaos and children running around. I tear up and get chills. That is so long from now, but it will be so sad.
18+ years later
August 26, 2017
It’s a bright, sunny cool day. The summer is drawing to a close. The sun is rising later each morning and setting sooner each evening. The air in the morning is far cooler than the past few weeks, and last night it was downright cold while I was sitting outside on the porch with Thomas (we call him Tom or Thomas now).
John, Thomas, Gabby and I are having an early lunch at Outback Steakhouse in Southington, CT. It’s only 11:30 in the morning and the restaurant is quite empty. It’s dark inside, but the sun’s light floods the windows. We haven’t sat together for a meal just the four of us since Gabby’s 12th birthday in 2011; soon after John and I divorced following 15 years of marriage.
Thomas spent this past summer between his sophomore and junior year in college working and living in Rhode Island with this current girlfriend. He came home last night and is leaving tomorrow morning to go back up to school in Portland, ME. John drove down from Pittsfield, MA this morning where he lives. He just accepted a new job in Tennessee and will be training in Germany for two months. He is leaving in just over a week. Gabby lives with me, but has been working at Panera nearly every night this summer. She is asleep when I leave in the morning and gone by the time I come home each afternoon. She will be starting her freshman year at the University of Rhode Island next Sunday.
John and I are on one side of the table. Thomas and Gabby are on the other. Thomas is across from John and looks like a younger version of his dad. Gabby sits across from me. For years people have commented that she is my little twin. We now have two grown children who are 20 and 18 years old. This is the nuclear family John and I started when we were not much older than these two in front of us. They very much look like we did back then.
What to say? There has been a combination of 23 years of laughter, fun, tears, pain, and growing together. Beginning tomorrow, the four of us are going our separate ways; farther apart than we’d ever been before. Sitting here during this meal, we have a lot of conversation about the mistakes we made in the past as individuals and with one another. There is a lot of apologizing, explaining and understanding. Gabby is the most cut off from the group – texting her colleagues about the evening’s coverage at Panera. John and Thomas are at the brink of potentially arguing a few times. I’m the one who probably feels the most surreal. I happen to look over at Thomas while he is talking to John. He has his father’s eyes. The same eyes I somehow recognized on the Boutwell that day.
While it’s incredibly likely we will be together again in the future, this is the last of the raising children part as childhood is officially over for these two wonderful grown ups sitting in front of me today. I didn’t know that first mid-watch on the Boutwell when I read the name Messeder that it would be my name for 18 whole years (as old as I was at that time), or that it would be the name of my future children. I couldn’t have possibly predicted what was in store.
August 31, 2017
Tonight I’m sad and having a little difficultly coming to the realization that my time as a mom in the way I’ve known it is over. I still have an important role though I don’t know what it is yet. The uncertainty of the future stirs up a bit of anxiety. Life is uncertain. I want to use these experiences as reminders in my life that every moment counts. Some will shape the future and others will just be a blip in the passage of life. But every single moment has potential. I want to be present more and just enjoy what is.
The years with Gabby were nothing but a blessing. She has gone from a helpless little baby to a fully-grown woman. I can’t help but think back to some of the younger days when she needed me. Times when she was afraid of having bad dreams and I would dust her arms with “sweet dreams powder” before bed. She used to snuggle up next to me on the couch and often put her arms around me and tell me that she loves having a compact, portable mommy (for whatever that meant!). I coached her soccer team and while braiding her hair one day one home she said she imagined the other girls on her team would be jealous because she is getting her hair braided by the coach. She used to want to work at the VA with me and said she was going to buy a house next door and always live near me. Recently I came across an old mother’s day card from her where she said to do nothing but relax, if I need anything just look to my right and she will be there to do it for me. She always loved cats and McDonalds. Those little trinkets the kids buy at school Holiday fairs that say #1 mom and similar sentiments mean more now than they did then. When Gabby found out her dad and I were divorcing she was so sweet. We went to Hubbard park that day and sat on a picnic blanket. Once settled down she said she understood and even kind of predicted it. She was 11. She’s taken after me with planning, organizing and baking. She works hard but has a healthy balance of taking it easy when she feels stressed (I wished I learned that a bit earlier on). She’s also pretty stinking intuitive. I’m so proud of her.
I put a lot of heart into honoring Gabby on her 18th birthday (On This Day) just over 2 months ago. I knew the coming weeks were going to fly by and I’d be here, in this very place where the excerpt from What to Expect When you’re Expecting said it would be. Where the noise, chaos, laughter & tears will be missed once the house is back to normal and the car packed for college.
Though we aren’t back to normal quite yet. I am still a step-mother of two more that haven’t left the nest yet. It’s a more complicated, undefined role. Daren & I’s story is equally as complicated and full of what initially seemed like uneventful life experiences that shaped the circumstances that led us to where we are today. It’s just about time to shift gears and move onto the next stage.