I hope one day, I can watch my adult children walk out the door without feeling like I’ve just been punched in the stomach. I suck at this letting go business. I mean it’s really kicking my ass. My oldest son moved out 3 weeks ago. He didn’t go far and I can and do see him whenever I want. I still fantasize about sneaking over when he’s at work and setting that cute little cottage on fire.
I’ve never been good at this and it’s only gotten worse. I cried all day on his first birthday. When he tried to abandon his lovey—the cloth diaper he carried everywhere until he was 3 and ½–I would find it and tuck it under his arm while he was sleeping. I still have a small piece of it in my jewelry box. When he and his brother started public school for the first time at 14, and 13, it took me weeks before I could talk about it without welling up. The stomach pang at drop off never went away.
When they graduated from high school this May, I teetered on the edge of bat shit crazy with daily crying jags. It was embarrassing. I’m proud to say, I pulled it together and made it through both ceremonies behaving like a normal human being.
Just when I had regained my composure, Firstborn started talking about moving out. Honestly I didn’t take it all that seriously. Rent in our area was out of his reach—it would hard to pull off even with the multi-roommate plan that was taking shape. When his buddies backed out, I thought the whole idea would go away until
his mother he was better able to handle it.
I was wrong.
He found another way—renting a room in a friend’s place on the river. He announced he was going and started packing.
If my life were a movie, this was the moment when the surroundings would begin spinning and people would speak to me in creepy slow motion voices while I stood locked in horror, probably with my hands pressed against my face and my mouth agape. It just got real.
He was so excited and happy. I didn’t want to ruin it with my own unresolved crap. So I retreated into self examination and kept my mouth shut. I silently asked the question that begins my internal dialogue when I’m finding myself having an overwhelming emotional response to someone else’s actions.
“Is this him or me?” There really wasn’t anything to debate about. Clearly it was me. He is 19, has a full-time job with advancement potential, and a rare opportunity to shelter he can afford in a nice location. He is happy, safe, and moving forward. I was the one acting a fool.
Now the harder question—“Why?”
Now the immensely more difficult answer–Because I’m afraid. That’s not something I want to say out loud, but I’m committed to keeping it honest here.
I’m afraid that all I love will walk out that door and never look back. I’m terrified of becoming superfluous in the lives of my children. I’m afraid they will leave me.
Ouch, ouch, ouch. I would have preferred to go back to weeping over baby pictures in the closet, but I am a relentless interviewer. “Is this a rational fear,” I asked myself.” ‘Cause it sounds like some childhood abandonment trauma crap to me.”
The challenge of this quest for emotional maturity and genuine joyful living is to keep the past from taking hold of the present. It takes truth and surrender to vulnerability. It takes faith, risk, and bravery. It’s hard work and it’s scary. I ask my kids from rough starts to do it every day. Damn straight I’m going to ask it of myself.
So the rest of the process goes like this. Now you know what you’re dealing with. What are you going to do about it? What are your choices?
If you stick with me, you’re going to hear this a lot. I’m pretty big on choices and the necessity of recognizing that you always have them no matter how dire the situation seems.
I couldn’t control the way I felt, but I could control my actions. My son was ready to soar. I didn’t want him to look back and see me weeping. I had to make this not about me. I wanted him to remember this day with a happy heart.
I chose to open my heart to a new chapter. I put my arm around my scared child self and we stepped forward.
I did all his laundry for him, I helped him pack, and I delivered groceries, and praised his new place. I gave him my blessing.
I must confess, it’s been good for him. He seems to have settled into his own skin. He’s relaxed and confident, and talking about future plans. The space has given him the perspective he needed to plot his path. I am proud of him.
I’d like to say his absence doesn’t pain me. I’d like to say I’m overjoyed that my son is now a man. I’d like to tell you that I can pass his empty room without my heart slipping into my throat. But those would be lies.
I miss him. It hurts. I keep the door closed. He visited two days ago and I took a blow to the gut as he walked to his car. I’m a work in progress.