This probably goes without saying because I’m a writer and all, but I hate math.
I remember taking, or attempting to take, one particular algebra test in high school: My brain seized up like melted chocolate when water hits it.
The same thing happened when my daughter asked me for help with her math homework during her first year of middle school. I looked at the problems and read the instructions.
Then my brain went to its happy place while the rest of me sat spacing off at her math book.
Yeah, I said middle school. Stop your laughing.
Crystal Ponit recently published a post on her blog Dirty Lil’ where she talked about finally glimpsing the light at the end of her parenting tunnel only to see it snuffed out by new babies later in her life. Her refrain:
“I’ll never have an empty nest.”
Her post, or rather the reality of her situation, scared the shit out of me.
I had our daughter when I was thirty-two. I’m forty-five now. I’ll let you figure out how old my daughter is because maybe you like math. I don’t know what I would have done if my husband had knocked me up a second time at forty (other than run screaming to his urologist’s office).
Now, take what I’m about to say with a grain of coarse sea salt because I had a nasty case of postpartum depression and anxiety after our daughter was born. Hours after her birth as I lay in the hospital bed I thought to myself, “We will never be alone for the next eighteen years.” That thought nearly propelled me out the sixth-story window of the room.
It was the rocket-fast trajectory of our marriage that made that moment so acute: We met in November of 1999, got engaged on New Year’s Eve in 2000, married in June 2000, were pregnant by Thanksgiving, and our daughter was born two months after our first anniversary.
I didn’t want to share my husband, and especially not with a wailing, pooping parasite who’d be moving in with us and camping out for nearly two decades.
And even though I loathe math, from the day we brought our daughter home all I’ve done is count the days until she leaves.
Just the other day we marveled at how fast the last thirteen years have passed (hint, that’s the answer to the difficult math problem above) and how we only have a few more until we’re alone. The light at the end of our parenting tunnel is getting brighter. It looks more like a spotlight at a Miley Cyrus concert than the nightlight in our daughter’s room.
And I realized as much as I’m still looking forward to our quickly approaching empty nest, I’m looking back with equal intensity to make sure I haven’t missed anything.
That I’ve done everything I can to enjoy this dwindling time with our daughter.
That my husband and I have done our best to raise an independent young adult who will be ready to leave and not look back.
And so the way I’m counting the days has evolved. It’s morphed into an actual mathematical equation for which there’s no definitive answer:
x [the time we’ve had with our girl] – y [the time we have until it’s just us] = n
I’m finding that as x increases and y decreases, n changes too.
“Duh,” you say. “That’s math.”
Yeah, I know. I’m aware that n is technically the difference between x and y, and that in this equation it doesn’t really mean anything.
But that’s not true, at least not for me.
When our daughter was born, y felt like an eternity. Now it feels like I’ll miss it if I sneeze.
The answer to this parenting equation is fluid. It’s changed multiple times over the years, sometimes even within one day, and it’s based entirely on perception.
This kind of math is alive and beautiful and scary.
This kind of math speaks to me.
And what it’s taught me is that I better live the hell out of every small, special moment I spend with my daughter—before she’s subtracted from my life and I’m left with zero.
So, what about you? What’s speeding by in your life that you’re worried you’ll miss? If you have grown kids, what type of empty-nester are you? Have you repurposed their bedrooms into man caves or craft rooms or love dens? Or have you left everything of theirs frozen in time, waiting for their return? What’s better—words or math?