There she goes: Letting go. Holding tight.
A deep, poetic and somewhat dark wrestling with my role as a parent overcame me earlier this year. 2016 is a big one at home: my oldest graduated from high school and headed off to college.
With grace and kindness, my internal mom clock began honoring this transition along with the new year – providing ample time to process. For me, it was like seeing a huge deadline you thought was so far in front of you that you did not really need to pay much attention, slowly and meticulously approach, as life continued to speed by. Externally I was somewhat mesmerized and methodic. Internally, I felt a hurricane approaching.
As this deadline took shape on the horizon in the form of college drop off, I would repeatedly review the last 18 years, if not my entire life, and wonder. Sometimes this wonder took the form of remembering highlights, gratitude for our tribe, the bright hope that is her future. Sometimes this wonder took the form of an assessment, magnetically drawn in a checklist fashion to my guilt and shame. These assessment reviews had me questioning decisions I’ve made, fantasize that I could have done more or better (whatever that looks like) or that I’ve run out of time and slacked on the job.
In particularly dark moments, fear ran the assessment sessions. An old pattern griped me in the middle of the night, sleepless and less than rational. In this disconnected state, my mind easily topples the construction of our external lives, as if it were a Jenga game that had gone on days too long. In this place, I believe it is my job to protect her, to provide, to do it all. I believe the big lie that I am in control and so therefore can be at fault. That anything less than perfect (whatever that is) is mine to feel blame and guilt. This is untrue and self-centered. But the dark of the night is not a kind or terribly truthful space for my wondering.
The truth is, we’ve made a contract. You and me. By you, I mean the Universe. Yes, all of you – the universe. We made a contract to raise a child, care for a soul, nurture a human being into adulthood. You do your part, and I do mine. It’s a sacred and tender place, being the parent. As a parent you act as a conduit to connect resources, harness the experiences, hold space, set the integrity and intention for this growing human. Yes, as a parent you also teach small people to blow their nose and keep their hands to themselves, at least until they have consent. The reality of the sacred parenting space where you do your part and I do mine: anything is possible. In this space we are always lucky.
As the college drop off neared my wonder increasingly turned to an interesting feeling of opposites: deep sadness and triumphant delight. I’m ridiculously excited for her future and can’t wait to take part vicariously in her learning and life lessons. I’m also often immobilized by overwhelming sadness to realize we will not be breathing the same air every day.
The college drop off trip arrived. While in my daughter’s new city, we connect with an old friend. We share a bed in a rented room. We make one, two, three trips to Target. The fraternity boys lug her SO MUCH STUFF to her third floor dorm room. We unpack. We find the right place for each thing, utilizing every nook and cranny. We hang party lights over her desk. I hide a love note in her backpack.
And then it’s time.
We sat for several hours outside her dorm saying good-bye. We thought the fresh air would be good and were treated to new sound: the dusk symphony of cicadas in the trees. We noted a glorious section of singers just outside her dorm room window.
The internal reckoning around my role as a parent had been absorbed into the now very real, very practical process of saying goodbye. This turns out to be a brand new kind of heartbreak to embrace. Any musings or talking about this “transition” did not prepare me for this ache inside, the endless tears, this vast ocean of love expanding.
As we intermittently talked, cried and held each other I could only find one real regret: I definitely I did not hold her enough.
I realized that maybe this is the top of love, the highest point, love’s Mount Everest, the love summit. From the love summit, the love is so big, so good you ironically would never have enough. We’re lucky in life when we find this.
My daughter asked me how long it took me to stop missing my mom when I left home. I cried more as I replied, “I still miss her now.” There is a homing device inside that orients us back home during life’s highs and lows.
We are always lucky.
We finally said good-bye and she walked inside to her room. I drove back to our rented room and parked outside. Not ready to go in or try to sleep, I decided to walk the quiet streets and look for the moon.
I sat at an outdoor table in the shadow of a restaurant that was closing, in a spot where I could look at the moon. As I contemplated all that was and is, a stranger approached me inquiring if I was okay. I told him why I was sad. Nathan explained it was his birthday and he’d parked down the street outside his party but had an idea he should pull forward and re-park. Turns out that parking spot was next to where I was sitting.
“I think that happened so I can tell you that she’s going to be okay. God is going to take care of her.” And after a pause, never breaking his gaze, Nathan continued, “You are going to be okay. God is going to take care of you, too.”
Happy Birthday, Nathan!
Yes, we are always lucky.