Me and Elizabeth on the school bus rock. Just a metaphor, really, because we're still on that rock. Rocks change and people change but you can decide to stay on the rock together.
My contract with GE came to an end on December 31, 2016 and in October I started working with my primary recruiter to line up the next contract. It really can take that long and nobody wants too much time on the bench. Sometimes vacations are scheduled at the end of a contract and my bill rate was high enough to justify working straight through. The other thing a contractor does is sock away as much money as possible. Six months of fixed expenses plus the food budget is optimal; three months is survival. I turned my vacation plans into a sabbatical during which I accomplished three things:
- I built a bookcase
- I taught Elizabeth to drive
- I walked into the panic room and locked the door
I still have that bookcase. It's currently holding 250 well distributed pounds of stuff without a single wobble. I gave Elizabeth eighty hours of road time, and while it wasn't the first financial crisis in my life, it was the most untenable and frightening. It drove a choice I would not have made under any other circumstances. I went back on the road. I like the road. I might have been delighted. My experience at Verizon was second only to my seven years at Hyperion.
Elizabeth was sixteen at the start of her senior year. She was an excellent student, a well established driver, she bought a car, had a bank account, and a job. She had close friends, and a father the next town over. We had two very supportive neighbors, one right across the street. There was a well mannered, responsible young man no more than two miles from the house. His parents were lovely, and very supportive.
It's not near enough, but it took us from rock bottom to the water line. We made it through her senior year with a 100 mile FaceTime cable that stretched from Weston, CT to the New Jersey Hanover Marriott. Nothing measurable went wrong, but the foundation shook.
Elizabeth was self-sufficient. She could get herself up, dressed, out of the house, and to school on time. She hadn't needed a homework nudge in years. She could feed herself. She did not need to be reminded to shower or brush her teeth. She could put herself to bed whenever she decided it was time for bed. She could even make and keep doctor's appointments. She did not need a parent for any of those things, and if she wanted to live on macaroni & cheese and chicken nuggets, well, that's a choice.
The parenting of children and young adults goes well past mechanical supervision. Parenting doesn't come to a hard stop, ever, it just changes. We would no sooner interfere with the adult decisions of our children in their twenties than we would attempt to diaper them past toilet training. The need for emotional care and support doesn't ever go away, but it does evolve over time. Right now, I need my dad. I don't need him to give or do anything for me; I need the sound of his voice and the smell of him when he holds me very close. I need the truth of him being in the world. He does not lie to me and tell me everything will be OK, because it might not be OK. There is nothing he can do or say that will alter my life at this point. I still need him. Someday he will die and it will be sooner than any of us would like. His death will not alter my need. I won't fall apart without it, but the fact of him is an integral part of my life, and ultimately, well-being.
That sixteen year old Elizabeth was more than capable of self-care made the solution viable. There were other mitigating factors and safety nets. We used them all and it still wasn't enough. Unless you ask my brother who would tell you it was already too much. Perspective's a funny thing.
On June 6, 2017 I left our home at 6 AM in order to assure a 9 AM arrival at Verizon HQ in Basking Ridge, NJ. My departure time got me to the parking lot at 8:15 and while two hours and fifteen minutes to travel 97 miles through the congested New York Metropolitan sprawl wasn't horrible, there had to be a better way. Eventually departure rolled all the way back to 4:30 and my best time was 82 minutes. A 6 AM arrival bought me a 5 PM departure, giving both of us more face time. Being a morning person, I also got a shit ton accomplished in those few early hours before my team staggered through the doors.
I left her in the summer which made the transition a little easier. The school year hadn't started, she had a full time job as a counselor at the YMCA day camp she attended from kindergarten until she aged out. She had companionship and the temporary stillness of that last summer before every scholastic decision and result affected her future.
Elizabeth never asked for much; mouth closed, eyes and ears open, she came to the conclusion that asking for something that wasn't already freely given could easily snap the frayed communal bandwidth. The hard stuff, the things that defined her, those things she asked for. Kid learned to choose her battles wisely. Most high school students consider the last year of public school to carry the most weight. That isn't necessarily true. Depending on your reach, it's those first three years and the first semester of the fourth that either drive it home or leave you standing in the parking lot. She was scared about the fall semester.
The American belief system about education, higher education specifically, swings wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. One end being, I might go to a community college for a few years or I might not, and the other, Ivy or Bust. Weston is: Ivy or Second Best, don't fuck this up, people. Your lives will be ruined and you'll drive down our national ranking.
The day before I left for Basking Ridge, she made a request. Out of context, Elizabeth's words might not carry a lot of weight and my response might not make much sense. All you really need to know is that the question was monumental. The reason I made her say it again, and again until I captured the original vulnerability, was to mark a place in time. For this to be meaningful, you have to understand that while I was pretty keyed into my kid, helicoptering and Tiger Mom'ing had existed exactly one time in her life. It made all the difference in the world and set her free.
Unless you're talking to my brother, in which case I should have cut her loose at eighteen; but that's just a reflection on how he and I were raised. He is childless by choice.
I have permission to share this. Maybe you can hear it.
The Tiger Mom Agreement.