Buy Photo

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Columnist Valerie Schultz

My youngest daughter has moved to Missouri to attend graduate school at the University of Central Missouri in a town called Warrensburg. She says the campus is lovely, the state is very green, her hair likes the humidity, and the people in the Midwest are friendly. Her boyfriend relocated with her, and they have already made a difference locally, helping a man in distress on the street, getting him home and checking on him later. It seems they've made a friend on their first day in Missouri.

I am proud of their can-do attitude as they embrace their new adventure. They've already gone to St. Louis to see the Dodgers play the Cardinals and to the Missouri State Fair. As we follow their unfolding story, my husband and I are very much reminded of the move we made to Minnesota when we were about the same age as our daughter. We were newly married, which is how we did things in the olden days, and my husband was starting grad school in Minneapolis. Like our daughter and perhaps-future-son-in-law, we packed up our stuff and drove east for several days, up and down mountains and across endless, impossibly flat corn fields, and relocated to a place we'd never been before. It was easy. We were not afraid. We were in love and we had each other.

Now I get to see our long-ago move to the Midwest through my parents' eyes, and I get to worry. There are tornados and flash floods and strangers and unknown obstacles and over a thousand miles separating me from the child who was my sweet baby such a short time ago. Will she be safe? Will she be happy? Will she be warm and fed and fulfilled? These are the things that I can no longer do for her, or for any of my daughters. This, of course, is exactly as it should be, but at the same time, there is a small pain way down at the bottom of my heart, a tiny hole that hurts in a hollow way. It is bearable, and even somehow right. This pang is what being the mother of adults feels like.

My mind wanders to various parts of the country as my children fledge and live their lives the way they feel called to do. Then my mind arrives abruptly home to the present, and I find myself asking the dangerous question: What is the life that I am now called to live? I have mothered infants and toddlers, schoolgirls and teenagers and college co-eds, and now I have a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law. My mothering tasks are fewer and often performed long-distance. I feel a certain peace, but also a restlessness of spirit. I feel the nagging of the proverbial wild hair in an unmentionable place: what is it that I am now called to do?

Maybe this is my midlife crisis, although, unless I live to be over 100, I am past the true midpoint of my life. I am aware of a passing of the baton, a handing on of the torch, to the next generation of nurturers. I consider the wild possibilities: Join the Peace Corps! Buy a VW van and see the country! Run away with the circus! I do, however, still have a husband who is pretty attached to his career, so the wilder ideas die quickly. I too have work that I care about, as well as a mortgage and a yard full of pets. We aren't going anywhere for a while.

Still, I know that the world is forever full of things to learn, things to experience, things to treasure, and things to ponder, no matter how our roles change or our bodies age or our paths take unforeseen turns. I miss my daughter terribly, but I am delighted for her future. I look forward to visiting her in the Show-Me state. I look forward to the surprises still to come on my own walk. There is always grace awaiting us, just around the corner, if only we are open to its reception.