It’s been awhile. The last time I wrote was last May as my son was leaving the house to finish his senior year of High School. A pretty big day at our house and any parent’s. It took me a few months to get my grounding after that day. Going from 18 continuous years of round the clock parenting to a sudden and immediate “layoff” is quite a jolt and I was terrified I might never regain a sense of purpose. So I found a volunteer gig and a new mantra, something like, “Guide Me,” grounding words I would repeat throughout the day every time I felt a new wave of panic rising.
Where to begin? When you have poured your heart and soul into two human beings who are ready to launch into the world and the thought of moving forward terrifies you, how do you start? Fortunately, I have had really good experiences volunteering in the past and it is something I am comfortable doing and my husband was supportive of me doing instead of looking for a paying job right away. So I had a wonderful summer helping a local rehabilitative organization as a volunteer at a summer camp for developmentally challenged adolescents build executive functioning skills. Ability KC is one of my favorite places because they support individuals and families of all ages and abilities to recover from debilitating injuries or conditions and regain strength and resilience. As a person in recovery from alcohol addiction, building resilience is something I feel very passionate about. So I started taking steps forward in my life and trusted God and the Universe to “Guide Me.”
Summer went by quickly and I built connections with the darling camp kids. I learned massive amounts from the 20- and 30- something physical and occupational therapists running the camp. I found that, as always, I had been planted in exactly the right place at the right time with the right people working for the right purpose. Continuing with this trust and purpose, somehow I gradually awakened to the next opportunity in my “Life After Mom” journey. I knew I wanted to work with kids on the brink of young adulthood who needed extra support. So I began applying for jobs with local school districts as a Special Education Paraprofessional. What luck and joy I had when a local middle school contacted me for an interview in early August. I am now employed there and part of another team of inspiring individuals I am learning so much from. And I have the privilege to connect with young people on a daily basis, meeting them where they are and trying my best to support and help them learn. I am beyond grateful to have this new purpose in my life.
Recently, when strolling the bathroom aisle at Kohl’s, I realized I hadn’t given myself the luxury of a really thirsty and plush bath towel in many years. So I bought 2 cream colored ones, something a Mom knows never to do with kids around because they’d be destroyed in days. Another thing about the plush towels: I just want them for myself but I haven’t explicitly communicated this to my husband. Occasionally, in his morning haze and rush to work, he grabs one and I find myself feeling territorial and angry – about a towel! Here’s my takeaway from the hidden meaning behind a newly liberated Mom and her plush towel anger issues: it’s a small luxury just for me that I am not expected to share with anyone. Ready to laugh out loud? After 21 years of nurturing my family, I just want to be asked if they can use my plush towel! I feel ridiculous about all the power I have given these towels in my psychological life and my family doesn’t even know it!
Moving forward in life after full-time parenting requires a sense of humor. I appreciate the sense of belonging and acceptance I have at the middle school where I am working. It’s building my skills, resilience and confidence. No matter what age, we all need each other to build strength. And plush towels. We all need at least one just for ourselves.
Happy Holidays, friends, and may 2020 bring you an abundance of joy, new adventures and plush towels.
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 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.