Tamara Prosper is an author, blogger, entrepreneur, and aging services professional. Born and raised in a Philadelphia suburb, she moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane and has lived here most of her adult life. If she isn’t working to plant the earth and feed the world with her husband (via Sheaux Fresh Sustainable Foods), or giving walking tours in Tremé, she’s probably sitting on her patio with books and tea (or wine). Tamara, her husband, their two younger children (ages 17 and 14), and a turtle, live in Algiers. Their oldest (age 20) has flown the coop.
It’s one of the most mundane occurrences in the world, happening daily wherever men and women and time coexist. Everyone sees it approaching, yet people are still caught by surprise. In most cases it takes around two decades and everyone involved sees what’s happening. Nonetheless, watching children launch into adulthood, even at differing paces, can be a jarring experience.
I was a bit spoiled by my first two children. They have always been more compliant than the last. Is it because they’re girls who picked up on societal cues of what was expected of them? It may be due to birth order, or the fact that they’re Geminis and he’s a Cancer. I stopped checking homework before the first two reached middle school. If they needed help, they asked. More often than not, they did their chores without being asked. If we had to remind them, it was generally once or twice. Not so for the last. Until very recently, “I forgot” seemed to be his favorite phrase.
If you first learned to drive a car with an automatic transmission, then later learned to drive with a stick-shift, you’ll understand. Driving with a standard transmission isn’t difficult. It just requires more coordination and attention to detail. It also gets easier with time.
There’s a certain sweetness in the details of parenting almost-adults. If I’m on the sofa and the TV is on, one may cuddle beside me or rest their head in my lap. They don’t fit. Feet and legs are everywhere, but I love those moments. They’ve had the look of young adults for a while, and the changes are most drastic in the youngest. Most mornings we meet in the kitchen, where I’m making coffee or tea (or both), and lately, he is unloading the dishwasher without being reminded. He greets me in a voice too low to belong to my baby. “Hi mommy,” he says, while reaching for a hug. I don’t know if he genuinely still wants morning hugs from his mama, or if he enjoys showing me the extent to which he has grown. I don’t care. Sometimes he rests his chin on top of my head. Sometimes he lays his head sideways over mine, as if he’s listening to my thoughts. I rest an ear on his chest, appreciating his heartbeat. I give him a big squeeze around the waist and say, “Good morning, buddy.”
It’s all over in less than five seconds and we’re back to preparing for the day. I get ready for work along with my husband. Our son makes his breakfast, trying not to bump into our daughter who glides gracefully through the kitchen. Our man-sized boy moves like a child: tall, broad-shouldered, and just a bit clumsy. Back and forth. Upstairs and downstairs. He zig-zags through the house, trying to be ready to leave on time. Well, I hope he’s trying. Sometimes it seems like time doesn’t matter to him, like he doesn’t know how time works. Sometimes when I look at him, I’m not sure I know how time works.
I almost feel like I know what I’m doing with this one. Three years ago I had a very intelligent, outgoing, creative, ambitious, generally sweet, occasionally moody high school senior. She took advanced placement and dual enrollment courses. She earned very good grades. She made plans to go away to college. I’ve done this before—more or less.
This time there are football and baseball games, after-school activities, social events, and in-person education. There’s a spring break trip abroad, and prom, and graduation, and places to visit and things to do.
This time, also, there is greater consideration on my part. My approach to mothering this 17-year-old is more delicate than it was three years ago. I used to pride myself on paying attention to my children—noticing them. I believed I saw them and recognized their needs. It’s possible that I was very good at that when they were younger. Now I’m certain that I’ve missed things. I’m certain because my second child shared things with a friend of mine before she shared them with me. I’m grateful for such friends—those trusted adults that children need when they don’t want to need their parents. I overlooked some things, but my friend enlightened me while keeping my daughter’s trust.
Most people know that new parents need a supportive community. The continuous effort to meet the needs of a helpless person who communicates by whining, whimpering, or wailing is obviously hard. After a while they can just tell us what’s wrong, which is great until they stop.
I know how to manage a skinned knee or a long-winded retelling of the day. I recognize sad, confused, or excited looks. What do I do with blank stares and two-word sentences? Sometimes I give advice. Sometimes I’ll sit on the floor in her room, ignoring the chaos of clothing, art supplies, and anime paraphernalia, and listen. She told me she likes that.
I was a people pleaser as a child. I liked adult praise. Sometimes I wondered if other children weren’t able to behave, or if they didn’t have enough sense to follow the rules. I realized that some didn’t care about rules. They did what they wanted, apparently unphased by the adult gaze. I also realized that I didn’t always care about being good. I cared about not being perceived as bad.
It was just the two of us and she was a few hours old. I looked at her in the standard hospital baby cap and blanket, looking at me with eyes dark like outer space. I stared at her, then felt a rush of panic. She looked tiny, curled up like all newborns, unaccustomed to the space outside the womb. I lifted her face to mine, kissed her forehead, and prayed. My lips grazed her skin as I spoke.
This was nearly 21 years ago, so details are hazy. The gist of the prayer was, “Lord, please make her stronger than I am. Don’t let her be afraid of saying what she wants to say, even if people won’t like it—even if I won’t like it.” I felt weak and I wanted her to be strong. There have been times in recent years when I thought, “Of all my prayer requests, this is the one God says yes to?”
Our first and her boyfriend, along with my sister, join us for dinner almost every Tuesday. We share the best and worst parts of our day, recount old memories, and laugh. We laugh until we’re in tears and out of breath. We also have uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes our oldest really gets into it with her dad. Sometimes the exchange shifts back to jokes and stories. Either way, she will respectfully assert her opinions. Our other children alternately chime in or tune out. After dinner we all clear the table and our son takes the trash out. One daughter loads the dishwasher and the other goes home to prepare for work and school the next day.
We’ve been raising adults since they were babies, preparing them to take off, assuring them that they’ll always have a place to land. Crawling, riding a bike, driving a car, moving out… they’re all the same. Our children can only succeed on their own when we let go.
New Orleans metro area parents! Want to share your experience with ANTIGRAVITY readers? We’re always looking for a wide variety of parenting voices and circumstances to explore each month. If you’re interested, please get in touch with Erin Hall or head to our About page to fill out a contributor form.