Overnight Parental Metamorphosis

 

My son, my second child, just left the house for his Senior Year of High School finals.  I know this day is a major rite of passage.  So I go to my basement and retrieve a few fragments of his and his sister’s childhood from the big box of grade school papers I have kept all these years.  I am that Mom.  The one who frames art projects and puts every lost tooth in a ziplock bag.  These memories are my treasures.

You don’t get to choose many of the experiences your children will have outside your four walls and nothing prepares you for the disappointments the world will heap upon them – you can only hope that your love will be the cushion your child needs to bounce back and return to the world of unexpected experiences the following day.

As a child, Motherhood and writing were my true callings.  I wrote plays and each afternoon baked goodies in my Easy Bake oven before picking my imaginary kids up on my bicycle riding up and down my long driveway and talking to them.  As an adult, my life has luckily pretty much mirrored what I always dreamed and imagined motherhood would be.  Except the joy I have felt over the beauty of children’s innocence and unfaltering love was deeper than anything I had ever experienced.  And the anguish over not being able to solve a child’s heartache with a bowl of ice cream and a hug more harsh than any adult experience I had ever known.

The most unexpected delight from mothering a girl and a boy has been the gift of being the guardian of the gentle unfolding of their hearts in this world.  Being a parent at our house has often meant inviting the outside world to our table.  The way my children embraced our Little Brother when we were matched as a Family in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program was loving and open-hearted.  They were open and accepting of the experience and shared our abundance of love, food, toys and fun with him without urging by me or their Dad.  And the outside adventures their hearts led our family to were beyond any planned playdate or experience I could have ever mapped out.  When our daughter told us at age 8 she wanted to be a competitive cheerleader, we set off on 2 years of driving hundreds of miles each week and thousands of 8-counts and sassy faces and moves to impress judges at competitions.  She already had grit, determination and focus.  The competitive sport just gave her an outlet, and her overwhelmed Mom was grateful for that.

My husband will faint in disbelief when he reads this, but I am grateful to have lived in the country on 32 acres for part of our kids’ childhood, in particular, the formative part.  They learned how to occupy themselves on long, windy, hot summer days without constant monitoring or activities.  Families enjoyed campfires, storytelling and music in the evenings and our son became a huge fan of the annual music festival that took place 1 mile from our back door.  To this day, his favorite smell is smoke from a campfire and as a young man, our house has become the headquarters for his friends to linger, laugh and talk into the night by a simple campfire.  Our daughter honed her writing skills and our many 8-hour car trips to visit family in St. Louis were a great source of inspiration.  Here she writes about the “Throwing Up Spring Break” of 2006 which was preceded by the “greatest day” of our 6-year-old son’s life at Disney on Ice.

Although today officially marks a transition from parenting children to young adults, and my heart is somewhat tender with wistful memories of those early days, I look forward to the next chapter – one that has already begun with my daughter – of witnessing, supporting, validating and loving the young adults my children become.

These 2 are my treasures and they belong to the world now, not me.  That’s both the most painful and proud reality of parenting:  these children gifted to us are born to fly.  Instead of planning the next week to make sure I am available for sporting events or other activities they love, I am, even as I write this, officially promoted to Witness.  I don’t have to referee their journey anymore.  Another Mom recently said, “You go from parent to consultant overnight.”  It might take me a few boxes of tissue to make the transition.  Each tear will be worth it.

Now I get to see who they invite to our table.

The Dog Days of Missing Boo

In 18 days, she’s coming back home for the summer!!!  It is a triumph to have survived the most dreaded event of my life.  I could not help but project onto my daughter my personal feelings about being away from home for the first time, so I caused myself infinitely more suffering this year than she ever came close to experiencing.  It’s what I do.

During her time away, my daughter has fully embraced her new experiences.  She’s in a great sorority, she participated in variety shows and charity events, she travelled to other college campuses, she has made wonderful friends, and she has her own separate identity that is hers and hers alone.  Her Dad and I are extremely humbled and proud.  And somehow, through all of it, my heart got BIGGER, not smaller, and we got closer, not more distant.

When my college Freshman daughter was in kindergarten, we BOTH hated it so much I had a countdown calendar in the kitchen that we eagerly scratched off the days leading up to the long-awaited summer break.  I think I hated kindergarten more, come to think of it, because my Isa spent the following summer writing letters to her teacher who was helping her husband heal from cancer.  That’s my girl, she stays connected to the people she cares about.  I should have known the “break” for college would not be an actual break, as my heart feared.

This is my message to all the Moms who are now in my shoes, anticipating (perhaps dreading) their child’s first year of college and what lies ahead:

  • Whatever groundwork has been laid before college holds the parent/child bond together;
  • In spite of whatever fears you may have from your past, your child is eager to move into the future and will do so regardless of how you feel, and it will be okay;
  • Your child needs to experience the world without you and vice versa – families change in many ways over time, but love makes more than enough room for the new stuff and people that will come into your life;
  • Instead of thinking as the transition to college as a personal loss, remind yourself each day that it is a victory – you created and raised a child who wants to engage in this crazy world with the tools you helped nurture;
  • If you are married or have a partner, be extremely proud that you did this together –  and if you are still together, even more so, for staying married and releasing a young adult into the world are both enormous accomplishments.

Yes, my heart aches because the time with my daughter as a budding adult is gone.  I am learning to put those feelings aside to wholeheartedly enjoy the friendship and journey we are on together.  She’s not going to leave me behind, she has proven that.  I can keep counting days until I see her again if I want to, but this year has shown me that our bond of togetherness is stronger than physical presence.  She lives in my heart.

This summer, she has promised to take some walks with me and our dog, Pudgey.  Over the winter, Pudgey and I got sort of lazy and may have put on a few pounds wallowing in self-pity.  Thank goodness the Commander is on her way back home to whip us into shape!

 

I Think I know What Joy Is

I got to spend 3 whole days with my daughter who left for college this past August.  Let it be known, Momma is still not adjusted to this transition.  Daughter, however, is fully settled and thriving.  Experiencing her life, all the wonderful parts she chose so lovingly to share with me this weekend, has blessed me immeasureably.  I see now the future she embraces instead of the fear, worry and sadness I have held for so long.
The weather was perfect, and our weekend began with my sweet dancer performing in her University’s “Greek Sing,” a talent show of sorts geared toward entertaining the hundreds (if not thousands) of Moms visiting their college students.  Seeing the entire ensemble gave me concrete proof that college students are “different” than high school students in many ways.

Young adults moving about the world in their own skin, playing by their own rules and trying new experiences with their peer groups exhibit an energy and effervescence that is contagious.

It felt wonderful to step away from the tired, grumpy, complain-y adult world of “ain’t it awful” to breathing the spring air of fresh life, young energy and optimism for the future.  That energy was palpable.  I soaked it in.  I feel new.

We enjoyed lunch with her new friends and Moms at the Sorority house then a lovely evening meal that she and her friends had carefully plotted – and everything was perfect.  I was captivated by watching my daughter and seeing both parts of myself as a young adult and a whole new beautiful person – the unique woman she is evolving to become.  She’s on her way.  She’s where she needs to be.  All my heaviness, worrying, tears – have just been for a Momma who didn’t yet understand her new place in her girl’s heart and life.

She proved to me this weekend I am still very much in her heart.  Fairly newly sober, I need “spaces” in each day now to process my thoughts and feelings and renew my energy.  Intuitively she understands this.  We did everything at my pace and she gently led me through the weekend without pressuring me to do more than I could.  Staying centered is important to me now, and I had no idea how very much my daughter respects and understands this.

Instead of continuing the evening with the group after the dinner, she told her friends we’d probably go back to our hotel and watch a movie.  I was delighted.  Off the hook yet also blessed to feel so “understood.”  Ironically, one of our favorite movies happened to be on tv – “The Blind Side.”  As we wound down the weekend, the words of Michael Orr to his Coach and later his Momma perfectly reflect my Daughter’s gentle love and presence:  “I’ve got your back,” he said.  So does she, and this Momma is beyond proud and happy.