jewels in the dust

August 7th, 2018

When my daughter was three, she played all morning in a broad and shady yard at her preschool. There, she was instructed in the most ingenious way by having free range to climb, run, sing, swing, laugh, cry, fall down and make stuff up. The teachers had spread bag after bag of tiny beads and plastic jewels into the sand, and she and her friends made a treasure hunt of them every day, perfecting the pincer skills necessary to holding a pencil and using scissors, the final summit before kindergarten. The girls hoarded these shiny baubles into collections that were the subject of much intrigue and negotiation between them. A good day meant Georgia came home packing equal parts dirt and dazzle in her filthy pockets.

These days folks send me kind solicitations about the “transition” or “passage” I am going through as the nest empties. “I can’t imagine the feelings you must both be going through,” or “Let me know how you are handling it,” and I am embarrassed because the truth is mostly that I can’t wait. It feels the way it does when you are too pregnant and ready to burst. You’re not relishing the thought of labor but you can’t stand the delay of another day. I tell people that this is all natural and organic and such, that our current relationship is unsustainable because it is hard to share a home with someone who is 1) never home or 2) won’t come out of her room. At some point your child can come to feel like a stranger and worse, a squatter.

I’ve told most people that it reminds me of when she was three, the very age of all those treasure beads. Age three is competent enough to become bossy, as I recall, with none of the sweetening that surfaces at age four. A friend once told me that when her sons were young, her exasperation would reach a pitch where she would think, “If they don’t change I’m going to throw them out the window,” and right then they would change. In the old days I read books that affirmed this very thing: child development goes through cycles of equilibrium and disequilibrium, ease and difficulty, compliance and rebellion, with the goal that everyone simply gets out alive and with a good probation officer.

It’s interesting too that all this is happening in the same month of her birth, an unforgiving August of incinerating heat and astrological omens: lunar eclipses, solar eclipses, and that pesky Mercury gone retrograde. I don’t know what any of that means except that the dog got sick, the AC died, the dryer broke, the garden gate collapsed, and the bears are tearing into the garbage cans nightly. Today I was rescued by my trusty appliance repairman who made it out to fix the dryer. It was a simple thing, just a two-bit fuse, but there was a rattle in the drum, probably spare change trapped in the cylinder, so he would open it up and fix that too.

A little bit later he’d finished the job. In front of the dryer he’d swept up a 20-year mound of dust, topped by a myriad tiny jewels once washed out of her preschool pockets. They’d been rattling around all that time, but here they were, freed at last to shine.


  1. This resonates with me so much! My son is heading off to college this month, 2 days before his 18th birthday. So, we’ll be going through this transition 18 years after I was literally in labor. He too, if so ready to leave (going out a lot and grumbly when he’s home) and it will feel like a relief to me once he’s out of the house and starting his next stage. I recently remembered how I felt right before he was born. I liked my family as it was, with a 3 year old son and my husband, and was worried we had made a horrible mistake to think about bringing another child (intruder!) into our lives. Obviously, we fell in love with him and it has been a wonderful 18 years. So, now I’m trying to trust that life will be just as wonderful as we all enter the next stage.

    Comment by Marcella — August 7, 2018 @ 7:44 am

  2. For me, parenting has been a series of goodbyes from the moment I pushed each of children into the world. At each goodbye — whether it was no longer nursing, watching them walk into kindergarten, watching them walk into college dorms, driving away from their post-graduate apartments — I checked the emotional gauges to see if the levels stayed even. There would be ticks of sadness, sometimes relief, yet underlying those ticks would be curiousity to see what came next.

    It’s not an empty nest at all, it’s your nest. Kids take up room in homes for a piece of time, in hearts for always. And instead of mourning the first, I chose to celebrate the last.

    Here’s to space for each of you. And some time to find your own tiny jewels in the next part of the journey!

    Comment by Laura — August 7, 2018 @ 7:48 am

  3. Reading this beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. Good luck to your daughter!

    Comment by Lauren Seabourne — August 7, 2018 @ 2:29 pm

  4. I love the honesty of this. Adult children are so much more enjoyable than teenage ones, though sometimes still annoying. And adult children with challenging children of their own, ah, so good to just be the listener not the responsible one. And elderly parents? All that, what you said. The time comes to fly, and it is a relief.

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — August 7, 2018 @ 3:55 pm

  5. Um…what the heck is a squatter?!

    Comment by Stvn — August 7, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

  6. squat·ter ˈskwädər/
    noun: squatter; plural noun: squatters

    a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building or unused land.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 7, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

  7. Oh, how I love a good dryer story. And this was a really good one ♡

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — August 7, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

  8. Beautiful. We are moving house at the moment so we are finding lots of forgotten shiny objects.

    Comment by Simone — August 8, 2018 @ 3:09 am

  9. Oh my goodness. Beautiful and timely. Thank you. xo

    Comment by Lisa Page Rosenberg — August 8, 2018 @ 4:01 am

  10. Beautiful! I always said that you need to raise your children to be independent, and it sounds as though you have done a wonderful job. You will probably continue to find Georgia’s “jewels” all around the house, in many forms.

    Comment by Alice Martin — August 8, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

  11. Such a sweet memory of childhood!

    I would like to play in the sandbox plucking out jewels for my pockets.

    May we all be awake enough not to miss them in our daily lives, for surely they are there waiting.

    Comment by MJ — August 10, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

  12. I LOVED this. I have an 11, 14 and almost 17 year old. Some days I feel so guilty because I CANNOT WAIT FOR THEM TO LEAVE!!!!! It was just “us” for a long time before kids so I remember the good old days and on the really trying ones now I get nostalgic. I am trying to live in the moment as best I can but this post made me feel better.
    It also gave me an awesome idea as a preschool teacher! 🙂

    Comment by Julie — August 14, 2018 @ 11:13 am

  13. Maezen,
    This was so touching and beautiful and true. As my boys are about to start elementary and middle school next week, I can relate with the feeling of “oh just go already!” These last days of in-between are hard with everyone’s emotions riding high due to anticipation. Fast forward 8 years and I imagine someone will be pulling legos out of my dryer. I’ll be stumbling across those for decades to come! Sending love!

    Comment by Michelle Cohen — August 18, 2018 @ 2:13 am

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