In Penitence

When the Teenager was in elementary school, we took her to London with us.  On one of our long walks, we saw a traffic sign:  Changed Priorities Ahead.  We were quite amused, and posed the kid in front of it.  We had certainly changed our priorities when she came along.

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In less than two weeks the Teenager becomes a College Student.  She is excited, she is terrified, she is firmly ensconced in her own world.  Changed priorities indeed!  I confess I am feeling quite detached from all this, partly because I do not have particularly high opinions of this college even though I have a degree from it.  The Teenager wrote the move-in date on the calendar and added the comment that we will be, officially, empty nesters.  The truth is that we have been empty nesters for a while now: the Teenager occupies a room in the basement, but she does not actually live here in any real sense.  We have all been moving on.

I used to make her clean her room, clean her bathroom, change out her bedding, sweep the floor underneath her chair, put away the dishes, all the usual “clean up after yourself” things that parents try to instill in their offsprings.  A few weeks ago I ran out of breath.  Really, if I still have to remind her to do all these things, then I have failed, at least for now.  So at least for now, I just do it, whatever “it” is.  As I write this, I hear the train, and it reminds me that more of my life is behind me than before me.  A year from now has as much reality for me as a day from now, and I just need to get on with life.

I remember all the times I watched my mother clean the kitchen floors. She did so everyday, and she continued to do so until the day she went into the hospital.  I watched, and I did not help, because like all teenagers, I had so many other things to do!  And if she wanted my help, wouldn’t she just have told me to do it?  I know now that she had run out of breath.  When I visit Dad, I clean her floors: it is the first thing I do when I step in the house.  In penitence, I clean the floors on my hands and knees, as my mother did, as my grandmother did.  And my daughter watches me.

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