I was just sixteen years old when I left my parents' home to marry a boy the next town over. I'm quite certain some people assumed it was because I "had to" get married. But I wasn't pregnant, I was merely foolish. And stubborn. Really, really stubborn. I actually believed that by moving away, I'd show my mom and dad just how much they'd miss their petulant, free-spirited daughter. Ha!
Looking back, I can only imagine the private happy dance they shared when I was out of their hair. Sure they'd miss me. They loved me. But man did I make their life difficult. I skipped school. I smoked pot. I went to parties. I played hooky from church. I pretty much did the opposite of everything they demanded of me. Not because I didn't love them--I did--but because I thought I knew better than them.
My emancipation came with a price. Suddenly I was in charge of me. I had to figure out how to pay bills which meant getting a job while also finishing high school. I learned how to balance a checkbook, shop for the best deals on groceries, cook meals and run a household. I even learned to change my own oil and spark plugs. At first it was fun, this perpetual date with my high school sweetheart and being addressed as "Mrs." by my teachers. Then one year later I did end up pregnant and gave birth just weeks before my high school graduation. Suddenly it was no longer just me playing house; I was now responsible for another life.
In THIS I KNOW my young protagonist's mother suffers from postpartum depression. There's a very intimate scene between mother and daughter, when Grace sees her mama for the first time as Isabelle Carter the woman with hopes and dreams instead of the person who sews her dresses, cooks her meals and combs the tangles out of her hair.
Mama stands and walks across the porch to look out over the meadow. She’s barefoot and wearing a sleeveless sundress with tiny yellow flowers on it that I’ve never seen before. It doesn’t have any pockets. All of Mama’s clothes have pockets. Most of the time they’re full. She turns around and leans back against the railing. Mama looks radiant in spite of the topic of our conversation. I can’t remember seeing her this happy. Ever. Which worries me.
I chose to symbolize the 1960s mother archetype as the family custodian, cleaning behind and picking up after her husband and five children. In this particular scene, Mama escapes reality by envisioning her dream house with a porch swing that overlooks a flowered meadow. She liberates herself from her expected role by wearing a sundress without any pockets. The dress says I'm free and unburdened. Of course, this scares the daylights out of Grace, who tries to convince her mother that she is loved, but what she's really saying is that she's needed.
I remember very clearly the day my youngest son left for college. I cried all the way home. I'd finally gotten that longed-for emancipation and it sucked. Although I cherish my idyllic, child-free adult life, I still miss being needed to tie a shoe, to kiss a hurt, or to comfort a heartbroken teen. My pockets might be empty of broken crayons and baby spoons, but my heart is so full of the memory of each of their young faces as they toddled toward me, arms outstretched, brimming with unbridled trust.
Parents: What about you? Are you dreading or looking forward to a life without dependents? If your nest is currently empty, are you enjoying your more care-free life? Would you let your adult children move back home to save money on living expenses?
THIS I KNOW by Eldonna Edwards is available at your favorite Independent and Online Bookstores: