My oldest son, Noah, is coming home in exactly 5 days, 1hour and 32 minutes. Yes, I am counting it down. I have not seen him since August 28, 2014. To be a first timer at letting go of my first fledgling, I think this is pretty hard core. I went from the comfort of having him sleep at night under my roof, safe and sound, to an occasional phone call from another time zone, halfway across the world.
Last June 2014, I was still reeling from a surprise cancer diagnosis and immediate major surgery as I stood (and mostly sat) at his graduation from high school.
It hit me. I had a summer. I had one precious summer left in my house with all my children living under my roof before it changed forever. Sure, we can always count on change, but for the last 18 years I had been a stay at home mother with at least one small child not even in school yet. I never had to adjust to life as they leave my nest. My life had been about adjusting around these children who were always around me! Now, my child was leaving for another country and I was moving away from Chicago.
At first, I panicked. I will confess that I don’t do panic very well. It looked something like me pouncing on my 18 year old son at breakfast with a guilt trip about not spending enough time with me. It went from there to an angry tirade about ‘aren’t we important to you? We are your FAMILY!’ If you had a video camera, you would have seen him looking at me wide eyed and nodding, mouth open. He then backed out the door slowly, breakfast forgotten, until he cleared the door frame, at which time, he RAN to the car and drove off as fast as he knew he could get away with. I cried.
I knew I could not prevent the inevitable. This child was leaving home. It was time. It was exactly what I knew was a successful outcome. A child confident and independent enough to go out into the world and figure out his path. But damn it sucked.
When I related the conversation to Richard, he laughed. Then he shared with me the secret sauce. “Michaux, if you chase him, he will run away. He is an 18 year old boy. Just find something fun to do with him, then make the time to do it. That is all you have.”
I knew he was right. (enjoy that statement Richard, it is rare) At first, I did the standard mother things. I spent money on him. I took him out for lunch, or dinner. I took him shopping. We went to the movies. But that will only take you so far.
Then one day the answer came. Noah was sitting on the couch frustrated that a friend had ditched plans with him. I was, of course, secretly jumping up and down, clapping my hands at an unexpected chance to have time with him. I went through the list of things I could think of to do and he ‘poo pooed’ all of them. He was really not happy about being dumped. I finally said in frustration, “Noah I just want to hang out with you!” He sat there for a minute, and then he looked at me and said, “You know all I really want to do is play frisbee.” (NOW WE ARE TALKING!!)
OH YEAH! Noah and I played some FRISBEE. We played. All summer.
Whenever we could sneak away from the other kids, (they would always take over the game) we would grab the frisbee and go to the big field at the park and play. It was pure play. Neither one of us willing to call the game. It became a friendly competition to see if I (old, broken down) could outlast him (young, strong).
One particular day, I was in bed suffering and sick, and Noah came home with a new official frisbee. He bounded like a puppy into the house and demanded that I get out of bed! I couldn’t imagine how I was gonna get out of bed at that moment, and yet, I couldn’t imagine how I was NOT gonna get out of that bed. So I got out! I played for an hour before the other kids realized I was outside having fun without them.
When Noah did leave home and we did pack up our house and move across states, it was pretty traumatic. I didn’t get to go visit him, or even talk to him much. I don’t know what his room looked like. He hasn’t seen our new home. I didn’t get to meet his teachers or his new found friends. I will admit to some tears about all this. Yet, I had that frisbee summer tucked into my heart to hold onto. It was a gift that sustained me.
Now I am getting the gift of another summer. I will have all my children under my roof for a short time. This time, in August I have to face sending TWO of my four children off into the world. My daughter, Micah, 14 is leaving home to attend school back in Chicago.
This decision was obviously not made over night. It was a tough trial and year for her here in SC. I watched her suffer and prayed for the answer. I was bothered that her brother had a wonderful Jewish high school education and I could not give her the same. So when she came to us and asked to go away to school, I knew I had to take her seriously. I listened with a heavy heart. I felt angry and cheated just thinking about being absent from her high school experience. She is only 14! How can I lose another one! I was supposed to have four more years before I had to do that ‘letting go’ thing again. It felt so unfair and yet I knew it was what she needed.
I made the phone call to the admissions counselor and was sick to my stomach the entire time. I got off the phone and bawled. I laid face down on the floor and shook. I called G-d a few bad words. I could not get up for awhile.
Then I stopped. I remembered last year this same time. I looked at all the reasons I did not want her to go and knew they were my selfish reasons not hers. I realized I had to figure out MY path separate from my children. Because, dammit they are gonna grow up and leave you. And that is if it all goes WELL. I knew if I did not figure out my purpose in this world I would not survive this child rearing. My heart was breaking.
So I let it go. I pulled out my frisbee summer from my heart space and let it soothe me. I began to look forward to the fleeting gift ahead. A summer. This is what I have. I must embrace it and use it to create new memories to tuck into my heart. I must enjoy my children while I have them. That is all we really have.
I can’t wait to play frisbee. I look at the long golf hole number 3 out my back yard and see the game in my imagination. I am excited to discover what else? What gift will I get with Micah to sustain my heart this fall? Maybe it will be the foraging for wild blackberries after dinner in the vacant lot nearby.
Maybe it will be the kayaking down the Saluda River. Maybe it will be the silly dancing in the kitchen while I cook. Maybe it will be all of the above! Maybe it will be something from G-d’s great imagination that I can’t fathom.
I am trying to figure out what else I am, but right now I am a mother. A mother getting used to my children leaving home. A mother learning how to let go but not despair.
A mother looking forward to another frisbee summer 🙂