Luckily, I already knew what was expected of me as a woman with a child leaving home. I knew this because someone who thought they knew me really, really well had already told me. I speak, of course, of Facebook. I hate Facebook. Rather, I don’t understand the point to Facebook, which causes me to hate it.
“Hello! We were in second grade together! Remember me?”
“Of course you do! Mrs. Fleigelman’s class! The turtle! We sat next to one another!”
“I raise Wheaton Terriers now! Here are a thousand pictures of them! And some in-jokes about that turtle! I sell Arbonne! I have some products which will help you with whatever you mention! I also have some incredibly irritating opinions about vaccinations I’m going to share with you!”
But give Facebook its evil and omnipotent due; it knows everything about you. Sneeze in your crawlspace and by the time you get back downstairs and click "update", you’re getting Claritin ads. So by them having my basic information and whatever they glean from the DNA samples they suck from my keyboard, I’ve been getting ads and articles telling me all about my new life as an empty-nester. Facebook assures me my life will revolve around wine and genealogy. Targeted ads led me to understand women my age get their greatest satisfaction from knowing what “once removed” means in a family tree while coasting on the buzz of an oaky Chardonnay sipped out of the coffee mug currently being offered to me on the right-hand side of my page, a page that also reminds me “Wine Is Nature’s Instagram Filter.” This seemed highly improbable for many reasons, not the least of which is I have virtually no relatives and I’ve always counted that as an asset. When being able to count your blood relations on one hand causes a one to do a small victory dance, you’re probably not a natural candidate to oversee the next family reunion. Add to that the fact that I don’t like the taste of most wines and it’s safe to say Facebook may know you, but they do not know me. This pleases me, because I am perverse. Also, because observation has shown that women who look like me age like this:
3. Getting way too invested in the dog
5. Develop group of women I persist in referring to as “The Girls,”
6. Wardrobe based on sweatshirts
7. FWD; FWD; FWD; FWD; FWD; What THEY don’t want you to know about Microwaves!!!!!
8. Newly-found racism that flares up at holidays or at ethnic restaurants
9. After several minor car accidents, the Kid flies back to relieve me of my keys
I’m not saying you can avoid #10. I am suggesting not starting the list might postpone #10. Which makes that moment a few weeks back all the more alarming, when I was on a genealogy website, a glass of Chardonnay by my elbow. As my soon to be overindulged dog is my witness, I have no idea how this happened. I will say two things in my defense. First, my family’s earliest ancestor to appeared in North America in 1723. He was named Pierre Pierre, which gives you some sense of why I’ve always avoided these people. Second, it was a very dry Chardonnay.
I love being a parent. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m still a parent but have shifted from a full-time employee who cheerfully worked nights, weekends and holidays for seventeen years to a part-time consultant. One of the reasons homeschooling worked so well for my brain was it was one of the few jobs that rewarded my default settings of constant low-level anxiety and a tendency towards hypervigilance. There was always something new to research, to try to upgrade, to sit up late at night and morbidly obsess that I was forgetting to do. I once woke Daniel out of a sound sleep to tearfully announce I'd just realized I had forgotten to find our daughter an Art History class.
Well, now she’s in Europe, which is basically one giant Art History class. She’s in a regular classroom and since we have not received any texts indicating she’s unhappy or being mocked for her appalling lack of some basic knowledge, I might safely breathe out. Having breathed out, I then wonder, “If I’m not going to stare at 15th century German birth records and count down the days until I go on a chauffered trip of the Napa vineyards, what am I going to do?” I know myself well enough to know “Pick up knitting again” or “Farmer’s markets twice a week, and try a new vegetable each time,” while laudable goals, wasn’t going to be nearly enough to occupy my brain. Have you ever met a Border Collie? They’re unbelievably useful when given complex jobs to do but left alone in a very nice co-op all day they make their own fun and frequently eat a couch. Without many, many jobs, my brain will eat the couch. For the better part of two decades there was only job that kept the working dog in my head from committing mayhem. That job just left for Europe.
What I really needed, I thought earlier this summer as I marched through the “Before she leaves” list, was a block of time where I figured out who I was in this new stage of my life, tried a ton of things I hadn’t done before, took what I had learned until now and put those skills in new places. A chance to grow and change.
What I needed was a gap year.