1,2,3: Let Go

123 nest

I have spent 46% of my life parenting. Day in and day out, tending to the needs of my three children, adjusting my schedule to theirs, knowing where they are at virtually all times, feeling comforted that, at the end of the day, they are all under one roof with their heads resting on their pillows, bodies safely tucked into their beds. Together, we have survived the chaos of play dates, sibling rivalry, defying chores, tackling homework, trying to be in three places at one time, creating and adjusting calendars, milestone celebrations, extra-curricular schedules, rides to and from, and the list goes on and on and on. There is a plaque on our kitchen wall that reads:

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I, along with my husband, have lived in the state of mayhem for twenty-three years. As a first time parent, I had no idea the life we’d will be thrust into– no one does. It comes on fast but slow, through stages, at the same time. It is inextricably the greatest whirlwind of my life, and I wouldn’t change a second of it for anything.

Except, now, my husband and I are on the cusp of an empty nest, and I’m bracing myself. It hadn’t occurred to me until my eldest son got on a plane to move across country, after he’d graduated from college, to begin his life, what a shift in mine was about to occur. It took me by surprise, but then I realized the shift he’d created when he came into my life. Mothering was not immediately easy for me. There was an adjustment period, one in which I had to learn to let go of my autonomous self. And, now, I need to learn the reverse. Through three children, I’ve realized letting go isn’t an abrupt shift like becoming a parent was.

When my eldest moved away, I went through a period of mourning, almost like I’d lost him forever. It’s been two years now, and it’s easier, but not easy, none-the-less. I miss the day to day things. When I talk to him, I find myself trying to catch him up but only having time for or remembering the big things. I recall his last year of high school was the year of tears for me. I looked at every milestone, that year, as the last of something… the last dance, the last photo, the last game, the last award, and graduation, the last day, and, finally, the last day of summer before he’d go off to college.

Then, I still had two children at home. My second son’s senior year of high school was a little easier, though bittersweet all the same. It was absent of nearly all the tears, as my approach had changed. I’d survived the first and knew how life would be after high school, and to that point, it wasn’t so bad. My eldest son came home from college some weekends, and on holidays, and for summer. This was mixed with we couldn’t wait to see him and we couldn’t wait for him to leave because when he was home he brought along his college swagger. He thought our house was his dorm and our rules had become non-existent: an aha moment for all of us, we needed to set the record straight.

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And, now, with the third, I find myself cautiously anticipating, for the aftermath is, again, unknown. The finality of the last child at home on a daily basis is our reality, right now.We are in the throws of what I call the Senior-Year-Wall. We experienced it with our two sons as well. It’s as if, subconsciously, in becoming these obstinate, unknown children to us, distancing themselves makes the prospect of the transition to college a little easier. I recall my eldest moved out into the yard his summer before college began in order to assert his independence; my second born took to living on the edge, pushing nearly every boundary we had set for him. And, so it has begun with our daughter. In my better moments, I can rise above it to recognize the stage for what it is. Yet, I cannot help, sometimes to find it infuriating and frustrating. When I take a step back, however, I realize the complexity of this stage, unlike any other. It’s perhaps more difficult for them to step out of the nest than it is for us to let go. We’ve been through it, ourselves, after all, and we’ve survived. So have our parents, and they survived, too.

For each of my children, I have written them a year-long letter that begins the first day of summer before senior year approaches and commences with graduation, one that encapsulates all the highs and lows for both of us. It becomes part of my graduation gift to them, though I’m not sure that when they receive it they are even, yet, fully equipped to understand it. Time and experience will make the words richer.

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A wise friend told me, “You have taught your children that the world is their oyster, and they have listened.” I am so immensely proud that I have taught my children to pursue their dreams, their passions. The exciting part of this stage is in watching them begin.

And, so, too, this is a time for my husband and I to begin. This new chapter in our lives is meant for us to pursue, perhaps renew, our dreams and passions. The shift needs not to focus on what we are losing but on what we are gaining. Not without pangs of adjustment, to be sure, I am almost excited for the prospects that lie ahead. I realize I cannot unknow what I’ve come to know– that my being as a parent has enriched who I am. No longer and never will I be again an autonomous being, for I am a parent; I will carry my children with me wherever I go. But the time has come to begin setting goals (short and long term) that at the center are about me. Letting go is not easy, but that’s what parenting is, and it’s a process just as regaining my sense of self is a process.

The LETTING-GO Plan 

1) Update my bucket list

2) Just breathe

3) Remember the plan all along was to raise them to become self-actualized adults

4) Take the transitions in stride

5) Enjoy my clean house

6) When it’s too quiet, remember when it was too loud

7) Cherish some friend time

8) Read more. Write more

9) Travel

10) Be there when they need me and sometimes when they don’t think they do

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Phantom Children

Sending a child off to college is what I’d imagine severing a limb is like. You feel phantom pain long after it’s gone; though in this case, it’s more like a sense of longing than actual pain.

I recall telling my mother, during my first pregnancy, “I just can’t wait to get this A.F.P. screen done because then I can stop worrying.” My mother laughed a very throaty guffaw and replied, “Honey, once you’re a mother, you will NEVER [strong emphasis on that word] stop worrying.”

Likewise, I recall my girlfriend, who is about 10 years older than I and has two children from a previous marriage 10ish years older than my children, who wisely stated, “The older they get, the bigger their problems.”
Two very profound pieces of advice/information. I’ve heard their words more than several times throughout my child rearing years, and suppose I will continue to hear them ringing in my ear like a reminder— I am a mother. Who said letting go would be easy?

I just never thought it would be THIS hard.

My first son left for school, being admitted for 2nd semester after being put on a wait list at initial acceptance time. Ahh… I thought, more adjustment time for me. No so, really; instead, just prolonging the inevitable. You know people say that children have a way of behaving unbearably before going off to college to subconsciously help them with the letting-go process. I do believe in the trickle-down theory, and while, immediately, I think it helped– that “I can’t wait to get you out of my house”- feeling subsided the moment he wrapped his arms around me, said “goodbye Mom,” in his sweetest most affectionate voice, and the long journey home, trapped in contemplative thought– where I’d forgotten every curse word, temper tantrum, missed curfew, banged-up car, roof jumping, new tattoo, bong finding, ten-nine, break-up, principal calling, passed-out stupor incident that had led up to this moment.

“Goodbye, Mom.” CHOP. SLASH. KAPUT. Limb gone.

I return home to an eerily quieter house, his neat (bed made, empty floor, everything in it’s place) room. I look at the clock and think, hmm, he isn’t home yet… OH, that’s right, he’ll be home in about three months.

After the second child, it isn’t any easier. It’s just that, now, I know what to expect.

One thing I’ve learned with the first is that I haven’t lost him, which is what I feared initially, but our relationship has morphed into something else– something very different.

I have to concede that I will not talk to him everyday, and I’ll miss a lot of the little things, nor can I take for granted that he is just there when I want or need him to be.

I learn to set aside time to call him, or drop everything when he calls me. I have to be content that he’s eager to share all of the big things, and savor every moment we can share in person– like stocking up on my hugs and listening to him, really listening to every single thing, and living in the moment.

I have to push my worries aside, not focus on those, and hope that all of the big lessons they learned at home will prepare them for all of the lessons they are about to face on their own. I put my trust in God to keep him safe, happy and healthy.

Keeping my mind focused on the big picture helps. I’ve created this child to love, teach, nurture, enjoy in order to set him free to become his own person one day. While it all seemed so very far away 21, and  again 18 years ago, it’s here, today and everyday, now.

And I have one more left before the nest is empty.

 

Firsts and Lasts

The first time my eldest son, Ryan, saw his shadow marked the moment that I began living through my children’s eyes. I remember a poem– where mostly I was questioning the existence of God, in which I wrote “he put my eyes right inside my child’s, so I could see, again, how beautiful it is to live.” I didn’t know, then, I’d hear those words some 19 years later resounding through my thoughts. At each step of Ryan’s development, being my first born, I anticipated the milestones. I welcomed them. His first step, in the living room, when he let go of the coffee table that had stabilized him, and the grin on his face– both exuberant and questioning. The first time he acknowledged the stars (then pronounced stores) in the sky and the gasp that followed. I used to fight with my mother when she wanted to do something new with him because I didn’t want to miss a single first.

When Tyler came along, I’d become cognizant of how quickly the season of firsts passes, and so, instead of eagerly anticipating them, I tried to stutter them in an effort to savor each moment. My reactions now began with, “Oh no, he’s _____________ already!” What I didn’t understand is that I couldn’t do all that I had done before– cook, clean, work, care for two children now instead of one– AND simply enjoy them.

With Alexa, I’d learned balance. I embraced her firsts, setting my priorities by giving up control of the things that didn’t matter. I sat down with her on the floor for hours playing dolls while the dishes waited in the sink or the balls of dog fur collected at the corners of a room for longer than a day. The concept of quality time became first and foremost in my mind.

As difficult as it had become for me to adjust to the sacrifice of having children, it was even more so fulfilling BEING their mom. They had transformed me– during those sleepless nights when they’d only sleep while nuzzling their sweet faces against my neck when I could feel the breath from their lips and their chests rise and fall– during those moments of exacerbation when I felt my blood boiling and I wanted to scream, but then those eyes would look up at me, regretfully and lovingly, and I’d melt– during those moments when they did something noble and responsible that took my breath away.

In 2009, Ryan, graduated from high school. While I anticipated this moment, I’d foolishly thought it would all be about the pride I felt watching my son grow into a young man, taking this step he’d longed to take and worked so hard for.

The summer before his senior year, once again, I realized I’d been mistaken. He left w/ his guitar and hockey gear–props that spoke to his personality– on an August morning, and I sobbed. The tears took my by surprise on that day, as they did for each of the milestones that year which would follow: each and every award he was selected for, receiving his college acceptance letters, Homecoming, hockey, Prom…

This past week, Tyler, now a senior, played in his last high school hockey game. Four games prior, the imminence of this day became prominent in my mind. Hockey has been the single love of his life for fourteen years. Tyler, the 2nd child, always in his brother’s shadow, decided to play goalie on a whim (Ryan had played forward). Up until this point in his young life, Tyler had always done everything Ryan had done– in part because it’s what I knew, but I always believed it was his choice too because he looked up to Ryan. This is the first choice Tyler made that marked him as an individual– something NOT to be compared to the shadow of his brother. At five, he put on all of the equipment, planted himself in between the pipes and played, determined to stop every shot. It was clear, early on, that Tyler had raw talent for this position and this game. For years, he played with his friends in the league they all played in. He was known as Wacky, then, who developed this ritual of eating a Snickers bar before every game. One year, he was pulled up to a higher level team for a game; his team mates chanted his name as he skated onto the ice, “Wacky! Wacky!”; it was clear, his older peers believed in him, and they won! For two years following, he was pulled up for the year to higher level teams– those more commensurate to his skill level. To hone his skills, he enrolled in goalie camps, triple A and special tournament teams. Tyler was determined. My ritual became following him each period to watch from the zone he was playing in. I admired his focus and his drive to excel. I used to say he was a Once and Done goalie because once he’d let one puck by him, he stepped up his game and refused to let any more by. The more fierce the competition, the more fierce he played. I wish I had video footage of some of the highlight saves he’s made.

Fast forward to high school hockey. Tyler has had a phenomenal four years. With varsity letters all four years, he’s had his share of accolades… from articles, to interviews, to commentary, to awards. One commentator referred to him as “the best goalie in the state.” After all these years, he still has his game rituals: five hour energy before every game, a soak in the hot-tub and stretching for an hour. I still follow him from one end of the ice to another. His name is still cheered from the stands: “We have Carbone! We have Carbone!” It warms my heart to hear his name called. The bigger the crowd, the tougher the team, the harder Tyler plays. More focused on this one passion than either of my other children, Tyler embodies the position he plays before and after the game, during and outside of the season.

So this week, his team, after moving from Division II to Division I, made it to the State Championship. They lost in the quarter finals to the #2 team in the state (Tyler’s was ranked #15). The tears I cried were not so much for the loss, but the demarcation of his last high school game– his high school career, which had given him such pleasure, pride– it was the source of so much growth. More proud than I was of his game (and I’ve been extremely proud of his game for all of these years), I am in awe of his ability to communicate his thoughts and appreciation so eloquently with each and every interview. It really speaks volumes of the young man he’s become.

It’s surreal. The firsts, the lasts and all of the in-betweens. I looked at each of my children after they were born and thought, is this real? is this child part of me? this child IS mine.

But the truth is, they are mine for a time– 18 years is a short time; I have conceived of these children only to let them go. The adjustment is painstaking, but necessary, and I will realize the adjustment; I know I will.

The parenting phase of my life is turning as their journey of being under my care and my wings is taking a different path. I need to adjust from living through my children to being content living outside of them, beside them, always here for them, but respecting the choices I’ve taught them to make, allowing them to make the decisions that mediate their needs and their desires, watching them flourish with pride. Firsts and lasts are cyclical, as life, after all.