Letting Go…again.

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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.

image Ultimate parenting goal achieved–So what the hell is my problem?

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.

Letting Go

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.”

Bingo.

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.