Two months ago, I said good-bye to my second born son. He would board a plane in the morning and begin a life in which most of his plans moving forward would not include me. I was no longer entitled to answers and even if I were, he didn’t have them to give me. I was told to expect a 30-second scripted call to let me know he made it safely to the Naval Recruit Training Center and nothing else.
I’d had nine months to prepare. (The irony of that time period is not lost on me.) I wasn’t ready. I would have given my eyes to make him stay. I would have given my eyes to help him fly away. It was bigger than me, than him, than anything within my control. This need to soar. I got it. Always the most independent of my children, I suppose on some level I expected it. I certainly understood it. I still hated it.
The call came at midnight. Not much more than I’m here. I’ll call in a few weeks. I love you. Goodbye. Then silence. Two and a half weeks of complete silence. I felt like I had been ripped open and had a hard time understanding how people could just go on talking to me without noticing my guts spilling out. I could only imagine the horror my precious son was enduring and for the first time in his life I felt powerless to protect him.
Raised in the electronic era, there had never been a moment when I couldn’t reach him. For the duration of his training, only a horrible tragedy would have granted me access to my own child. I was angry and afraid.
I longed to collapse into a puddle of grief, but the eight other people who depend on me couldn’t bear the sight of me liquifying. I mustered all my strength and carried on. I took the kids to the pool and hid my tears behind my sunglasses. I put one foot in front of the other. I did the laundry. I cried in the bathroom. I avoided his room. I buried myself in service. I beat myself up over the grief I was feeling when my loss was relatively small. I knew he was safe and I would see him in 8 weeks. Others had suffered so much more. At times I felt completely foolish about my inability to control my emotions. I cursed the recruiter and the orchestrated plan to lure our sons away at the peak of their bravado and cravings for independence. I questioned my sanity and I cried some more.
At last the phone rang. He sounded completely fine. He was upbeat and confident. He told me repeatedly that it was easy and he was doing great. “You don’t need to worry about me, Mom,” my man child assured me. My chest relaxed for the first time in weeks. It didn’t get easy, but it got better. Until the final week. The anticipation of seeing him coupled with the realization that despite boot camp’s completion, he was not coming home, caused me to decompose again.
Before boot camp, I’d never been separated from him for more than a few days–now I was facing the reality that he would likely never live under my roof again.
I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that.
But after a bittersweet weekend together, one thing is clear; He does not need my shelter. My worst fear when he left was that his spirit would be crushed–that my funny, charming, witty boy would grow cold and bitter. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him. That didn’t happen. He is very much his good humored self only more settled, standing taller. He literally grew an inch while in bootcamp. He is confident, ambitious, determined, and driven. He knows where he wants to go and how to get there. He has come into his own. He is absolutely aglow. He has made me so very proud.
The truth is that this is not the path I would have chosen for him. But I was never so foolish to think it was my choice to make. My motivation is completely selfish and has everything to do with fear and my own loss trauma. I would have stopped the clock years ago if I could have. I miss him. I miss him with a pain I don’t know how to express. It’s total bullshit that we are expected to pour our hearts and souls into our children for nearly 20 years then pretend to be happy watching them walk away. That model will never make sense to me. I want him here with me. Always. I want them all here with me. Always.
But alas, I know that one by one they will tear out a piece of my heart and head for the door. Clinging to the past, weeping like a fool is not serving me or him well. I really don’t want to diminish his joy or alienate him with my sorrow. His eyes are focused forward. As they should be. His light is contagious. The world awaits him. He’s gotta go.
So I’m going to try to put this all here and leave it behind. I’m going to embrace the next chapter and relish the fact that my son has arrived fine and upstanding at adulthood’s door and take credit where it’s due that my powerful love helped get him there. This is me stepping back to find our new balance. This is me letting go.