By Elise Seyfried
“The best way to keep children at home is to make the home a pleasant atmosphere and let the air out of the tires.” –Dorothy Parker
As with so many other aspects of my bipolar life, I have a love/hate relationship with the ocean. I adore sunrises over the sea, sitting at water’s edge with a good book, “swimming.” (My definition: wading out, ever-so-tentatively, until I am maaaayybee knee-deep in the drink, then scampering smartly ashore at the first hint of an actual wave.)
I also fear the ocean’s power, its depth, its general … wateriness. Since every one of our children’s summers has revolved around the Delaware seashore, you can imagine my pretend good cheer, and genuine heart-sinking sensation, each time the kids caroled, “Let’s go in!” When they got past the age when I absolutely had to let go of my deathgrip on their hands (it’s been at least two or three years now), I had to content myself to watch as they rode in on the tide on their flimsy boogie boards, jumped — or, worse, ducked under — the terrifying swells.
I would read the same sentence in my book 47 times as my eyes darted up over the page and out towards my cavorting offspring. Exactly twice did I have reason to be this panicky. Evan was once carried out by a riptide — and promptly rescued by a lifeguard; Julie got a mild concussion by being knocked over in the surf. The other 1800 trips to the beach, the biggest mishaps involved sunscreen in the eyes and PB & Js snatched by ravenous seagulls.
Well, now my worst nightmare — being trapped underwater — is currently being lived out by Lt. JG Evan Seyfried, USS Greeneville. Evan is “underway” to parts and for times unknown, and I am left, ashore and forlorn, to imagine how I could possibly have mothered a child so totally unfazed by life on a submarine.
I’m learning to cope with waiting for whatever news he can share (email, miraculously, does travel back and forth, but at a virtual snail’s pace), hanging on to Evan’s reassurance that subs have come a little ways since the small, super-cramped boats featured in WWII movies. I try hard to begin and end the day in prayer for him — prayers for his safety — and then mean it, let God be God and care for my child where I cannot follow. But still…
Other places I cannot go, now that ALL the Seyfried kids are “underway,” one way or another, include the classes Sheridan is teaching at Curtis Institute of Music. How I’d love to sneak in and listen to my son instruct a roomful of gifted young musicians! But guess what? That invitation has not yet been issued! How about a visit to Rosie’s “flat” in London last summer, as she worked on a sound installation for the Royal Opera House? Heck, how about Rosie’s front stoop in Boston, hanging out with her Berklee buds? Haven’t gotten that invite either!
To finish the roll call, PJ has yet to ask me to a Friday night Millersville University party (I’m sure he probably just lost my phone number), and when Jules has high school friends over, her “special request” is for me to please find something to do in a galaxy far, far away.
So when did I become so darned dispensable? Why does it seem that the clichéd “roots and wings” line is being altered around here, with the roots uprooted and all the wings flapping wildly, propelling them farther and farther from me? I guess I didn’t think I’d feel quite so marginalized until I was a good bit older (say, age 126 or so).
The other day we had one of those bizarre conversations that seem to be a staple of the Seyfried house. Julie asked who had been scheduled to “get” the brood if anything happened to Steve and me. I responded, “Aunt C.” (My sister deserves her crown in Heaven for agreeing to this plan, but I am SURE her every prayer, back in the day, was that she be spared life as “Auntie Mom” to five children under age 10!)
Julie then said casually, “Well, you know, we’d be fine on our own now, if anything happened. We’d figure it out.” What should have been a reassuring comment, instead triggered an unreasonable longing to turn back the hands of time to the anxious, crazy, exhausting days when I was capital N “Needed.”
Oh I know, I know, they still need me, just in a different way. Their independence and competence are such positive things, qualities they have worked hard to develop and deserve to enjoy. And I truly believe that I am still on speed dial when life’s crises hit. And I truly never want to become Clingy Mother, demanding hourly check-ins from her brood.
So, where does that leave me? Redefining myself for sure, and maybe that’s something I really needed to do.
Like it or not, I am “underway” as well. Setting sail on that ocean I both love and hate, that ocean called life. A new kind of mom, onward to the next adventure.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She is also the author of a self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” a collection of essays, humorous but with a spiritual focus, based on her life as a mom and church worker. The book can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through www.eliseseyfried.com. (Also from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble bn.com, although they add an extra charge.)