Me: [bending over in the kitchen]
Courtney: “Eeeewwww! When I get old, is my ass gonna be that fat?”
Me: “If you’re lucky.”
And the day I found her clipping her toenails in my unmade bed—her revenge for some restriction I imposed on her teenage lifestyle—is forever etched in my brain. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive her for that one.
On Monday, my baby turns 30. Courtney’s a strong-willed free spirit (I don’t know where she gets it from), but nonetheless, she’s still a good kid.
Last year the two of us celebrated her birthday in Oregon. She’d fled the wintry Northeast and was crashing for a couple of months at a girlfriend’s house in Bandon-on-the-Sea, a tiny little seaside town a couple of hours southwest of Eugene, and I flew up from Vegas for the weekend to be with her. Bandon is absolutely beautiful; I could certainly understand why anyone would want to live there, and as we walked along the rocky beach, I found myself fantasizing about I might be able to swing a relocation as well.
But Courtney wasn’t living in reality, not in my motherly opinion. I could understand that she was going through one of those crappy times of life where nothing comes together, but I felt she’d downright abandoned from her life back east. Just ran away from it all to spend her days combing the beach looking for agates. She had no job and no source of income, save for the little money she made playing gigs in the local coffeehouse. Forget health insurance.
I was not a happy mommy, and when I wasn’t biting my tongue, I was fighting the urge to smack some sense into her. I tried to be good. This was her birthday weekend; I wanted to keep it pleasant. But again, “Every gray hair on my dyed head...”
The morning of Courtney’s birthday we walked the beach together and then the two of us and her friend, Cyndi, went into town. I bought a funky bag at “the gypsy lady’s shop” and at another cool little store, Courtney bought a skirt she fell in love with. How the hell do you have money to buy a skirt? I thought, but again, I bit my tongue. I would have sprung for it, since it was her birthday and all, but I’d already spent a fortune that weekend and I already gave her $200 toward an eye exam and new contacts (no insurance, remember?)
Courtney changed into her new skirt right away and since it was a beautiful spring day, she thought she’d take her guitar down to the pier and play for tips. I sat about 30 feet off to the side, enjoying the sun on my face, listening to her sing. Soon a couple of young teenage boys came along. They got off their bikes and sat cross-legged in front of Courtney, giving her their full attention. At the end of the song, they clapped and put a little something in her open guitar case.
“Thank you!” she said sweetly, straightening her new skirt. “Today is my birthday.”
The boys asked how old she was and they were surprised to hear she was 29; one said he thought she was 18. After a while, Courtney started strumming her guitar again.
“Do you know this song? If you do, you can sing with me,” she told them.
You are my sunshineThe boys chimed in.
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You’ll never know, dearAt that moment, the disapproval I’d been suppressing all weekend completely dissipated. Poof! All I could see was perfection, the hallowed beauty of my child. The divine unfolding of the Universe right before my eyes.
How much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
Later that day Courtney drove me up to the airport in Eugene. The two-and-a-half hour drive gave us time to talk.
“Mom, why does life have to be so fucking hard?” she asked. “Sometimes, I swear, I wish I could just chill with Pop.” Pop, her paternal grandfather, passed away a few months before.
“We’ve all had times when our lives are in the shitter, honey,” I told her. I shared my remembrance of flying back from Albany one New Year’s Eve just after my last divorce, thinking, “If there was ever a good time for a plane to go down, now would be okay.”
Courtney remained in Bandon for about another six weeks before returning to Albany. If you’ve been following my blogs leading up to her wedding last month, you’ll know that things did, in fact, turn around for her, and in a big way. Fortunately, that’s how life goes; things have a way of turning around.
I’ve learned many lessons from my brief marriage to my second ex. Two in particular stand out: 1) You can’t tell anyone anything, and 2) People don’t always do what you want them to. That goes double for your kids. I’ve often said that the hardest part of being a parent is watching your children learn their lessons. We want our kids to get on track; we want life to cushion the bumps in their road. But we can’t.
A year later, I look back and I’m happy that Courtney got to spend that time in Bandon. She needed to get away; it was good for her soul. And what a beautiful soul it is.