If you follow me on Facebook, you know that my oldest son is gone, studying in London (not even someplace remote!) for 5 months. He’s been gone since mid-January, when I began this blogpost, which was then a significantly sappy, depressing, and emotionally draining piece of writing, I can tell you. For those reasons and more, it’s been sitting in “Drafts” for the past 3 months. I needed some time and space to sort myself out. But if I’m ever going to write about this at all, I need to do it now because he’ll be home in 2 months, and I might not have such a sentimental perspective then.
Even though I have 2 college students, I am relatively new to understanding the blessings and horrors of being separated from my adult children. I feel an incongruent mix of grief and relief. I hope that’s healthy.
Grief first. I wish I could stop time, or at least pause it. I’ve always felt that. I remember so many tender moments snuggled on the couch with my boys, with their little sweet faces pressed against mine, their bodies a bundle of wiggles and giggles. If I could, I would have paused time. Even then, I knew how precious it was, so I tried to savor every moment, taking snapshots in my mind and filing those moments under “time I won’t get back.” I guess I had begun grieving then, even before the time had passed.
I have to be honest here–now that I have adult children with adult issues, those tranquil days fade away even faster, like they’re seeking erasure from my heart, just to spite me for needing to remember them. They are like my son’s plane, racing across at the sky while I stand at the airport falling to pieces. (I’m being metaphorical, you understand. I was long gone before his plane even left. I was quite busy weeping through the airport and across the parking lot, guided by my husband so I wouldn’t walk blindly into anything.)
On days when I miss my children, I claw at those distant memories, but not because I can’t recall them. I just want to relive them. Does anybody else feel this way? I sound pathetic as I read this.
I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to nurse fevers and build volcanoes that won’t erupt. I just want to relive the closeness of holding each of my children with their children problems; back then, solving their problems was fairly simple. Today, not so much. Today when we sit in a restaurant and discuss issues with our adult children, my mind and emotions are in conflict. What I should say or not say and how I should say or not say it fills me with angst I never knew when my kids were little. This conundrum collides with my emotional response, which has never changed. Come on over here and sit on my lap, even though you will make my legs go numb. I will hold you and kiss you, and that will make everything better. But that’s not happening in any scenario, so I feel powerless. My trusted mom arsenal doesn’t work anymore. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But hey, as a mom I have the uncanny ability to re-feel anything I like, presumed or real. It’s my special gift.
Relief next. I know, you’re relieved, too, because you want me to stop talking about how much I crave my children. Psycho mom alert.
I am relieved that I can actually put my son on a plane to another country, by himself, and that he is excited about it. “The world is his oyster,” as my mom would say. I’m not sure if I understand that expression, but it somehow suits. I guess he’s going to find pearls somewhere. And he certainly has. To date, he has toured most of western Europe, southern England, Wales, and become friends with a member of Parliament, who invited him to tea in the Palace of Westminster. He’s still got Scotland, Paris, and Ireland on his agenda. He is likely speaking with a British accent by now. I expect when his time there ends, he will feel like he needed to stay longer. He’s made friends, he’s found a church, he’s conducted himself wisely. He hasn’t run out of money yet (but 2 months to go). That will be a good lesson, too. His locker at a hostel in Berlin got robbed, but he doesn’t seem too upset by it. Apparently, he can withstand some degree of catastrophe without our involvement.
As surprising as this sounds, I’m relieved that he doesn’t need me. He makes his own meals and doesn’t complain about it. (And I know he’s existing on frozen chicken nuggets and pop-tarts). He wears wrinkled shirts, lives in a tiny room, and he’s as happy as a clam (another sea expression I don’t understand).
Every new stage brings relief and grief with it. As much as I grieve over each metamorphosis, I do look forward to it. I wish I could’ve explained this when I hugged my son good-bye at the airport because I balled like a baby. I had spent several years implanting in his psyche that studying abroad would be the chance of a lifetime; then when it actually happened, I latched onto him like I was saving him from the jaws of death. He was genuinely confused. He kept trying to release my embrace. I think he needed air.
“Not done yet,” I sobbed, still squeezing hard.
“Mom, I gotta go.”
No, you don’t. You have plenty of time. Stop rushing this. I need more time.
But he kissed my forehead and walked toward the escalator. He didn’t look back, which was probably a good thing. My stricken face did not reflect pride, encouragement, or any of the emotions you should send with your child across an ocean. My husband turned to walk away, but I repositioned myself to get a better view of our son as he disappeared out of sight.
“He’s gone!” I wept. I was as surprised as anybody. I would have made a terrible pioneer mom. At least in today’s culture, we can Skype and I-message. I could even get on another plane and go see him if I hadn’t spent all my money to send him.
I guess grief and relief will follow me throughout my career as a mother. Does anyone else feel the same way? I’d love to hear how you handle it.