Today marks one week that I dropped my youngest child – my son – off at college. The week has been quiet, with lots of time for thinking. I’ve done my best to avoid the conversations that started “So, how’d he make out?” , “What’s it feel like?” and “Are you done crying?”. I know everyone means well, but the truth is, there’s so many emotions to sort out, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on inside let alone trying to talk about it. Keeping busy is always a great antidote for avoidance – and that’s what I did. In between the busyness, I’d think, I’d cry, then I’d get busy again. As with many things in my life, I do my best thinking in the garden or sitting and writing. So between the weeding and the thinking, here’s what this week taught me.
Several months ago, I read a Facebook post from a woman who was in the same place as I am today. She had watched the process all before; the culmination of high school events – awards, prom, and graduation – amidst the excitement of packing up new college supplies for the next great adventure. Then, in the whirlwind of activity, the big day arrives and you feel unprepared. You haven’t forgotten anything and you’ve checked the list more than twice! With a painted smile on your face, you hop in the car as though you’re heading on vacation. You avoid eye contact with all the things in the car that remind you that there’s a move taking place here. As you unpack, you find joy in the fact that you can make his dorm bed – like the one at home – one last time. You rearrange the new school supplies in the desk drawers assuring yourself that they will help him to be successful and organized. You find yourself torn between the excitement of all the adventures that lie ahead of him and the reality that he’s staying here……and you must leave without him.
My husband sees the look in my eyes and he says “He’s well prepared – he’s going to be fine.” I know this. I know this. I know this! Yet…there’s more. So much more.
Back to the Facebook post I read – when I scanned the first few lines, my head began to say “well that’s a little dramatic” as this is how it began:
It’s not a death. It’s not a tragedy. But it is someting.
As I read further, I was surprised at the flood of emotions that arose. “Yes, yes, I kept saying, that’s what I’m feeling.” I really wasn’t trying to be dramatic. The fact is, I raised all four of my children to be independent. For me, there was safety in knowing that should the day come and I could not be here, they would be completely prepared to take on any responsibility or challenge that lie before them. Mission accomplished! But there was more to it and the author, Beverly Beckham, hit the nail on the head, for me.
The last of my children is leaving home. I wasn’t only saying goodbye to the child but to those years of childhood. The end of something – was the role I played in their childhood. You know, this job I’ve had for 30 years.
The end of something…the roller coaster of life that was non-stop, the crawling, walking, running, little league, dance, tucking them in, reading Goodnight Moon, saying prayers, the tooth fairy, braces, dreams, disappointments, that kiss good night, knowing where they are, or when they’ll arrive to share their day (sometimes in way too much detail).
The end of something I say – while others respond with the typical “YES – but the beginning of something new for you; a new chapter, a new adventure; they’re spreading their wings, one door closes – another opens.” The list goes on. The author, Beverly Beckham, states it beautifully – a childhood isn’t a chapter but an entire book, we are not birds whose offspring fly off, never to be seen again while we build a new nest and start all over, our children don’t occupy a room in our life whose door can be closed, but occupy every space in our head and our heart. No, this “end” is a process. One that takes time to grow into. The tiredness of the demands lighten – there’s a weightlessness to it all, yet a heaviness too. My role is changing – and it’s clumsy and new.
The end of something – like that feeling that they’re all mine – and I don’t have to share them with the world. I know that they’ll be back – but not for always – and now it will be different. So this week I begin to learn to embrace this new role. I can’t move forward without understanding where I’ve been, what has changed, and how it’s become a thread in this tapestry of my life.
Being a parent has taught me about love; how to give it, and how to receive it. It has taught me that in the midst of being the teacher, you often find yourself being the student. It has taught me that unconditional love is possible; that when your emotions change as a result of an action – your love doesn’t have to. Time does not stand still. When the sun rises and a brand new day dawns, the world keeps on going. It will not wait for you, or your grief to catch up. To be alive here on earth, you must move forward. We teach them to walk and before you know it they’re running. You cry out for them to slow down but they move too quickly – and they’re on to the next thing. Slow down – stay a minute more – make childhood last just a little while longer.