In just a few days, my son will walk to the front door with his final box under his arm. He may ask if I want the house key back, I’ll tell him to keep it. He’ll stand there for a moment, because he will know that I will require one more hug. One last hug. Not the final last hug I’ll ever give him, of course, but the final one where he comes back home after whatever he’s gone and done for the day.
And I will hold on longer than I normally do. And he will feel my body tremor as I cry. I will have told myself beforehand to keep it together, Beth, to not cry in front of him, to just hold it in until the door clicks shut, that my lands, you’re literally going to see him in just a few days. But I won’t be able to stop myself. And, because he has put up with my over-the-top emotionality for his entire life, he will not push me away.
And then he will walk out the door, for the last time as a member of this household, and get in his car and drive to his new apartment twenty minutes away.
I have been bracing for this moment for…well…I was going to say for four months, when he came home early from college (thanks, covid) and moved back in until his next steps fell into place. We knew this day was coming, literally, because we gave him four months to find work and a place to live (not our idea, but a counselor-affirmed notion, though one I railed against inwardly every moment…but that’s another story probably not for another time).
But back to me bracing. Let’s be honest, shall we? I haven’t been bracing for simply four months.
I’ve been bracing for both of my children to be on their own since April 1, 1996, when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.
For twenty-four-and-a-half years, I’ve been – in the back of my mind and in the recesses of my heart – very aware that my job was to raise them to let them go.
I was best at parenting from about zero to ten…the years when it’s culturally acceptable for a mother to hover and worry and protect and even control just a touch.
The years on the downslope of this mountain – where I was supposed to be loosening my grip – have been painful and wonky and, to be vulnerable, at times very unhealthy on my part. For reasons I understand and some I don’t, I have held on to my children too tightly and too long.
When my children and I left our family home almost nine years ago and moved into what very quickly turned into our refuge, I told them, “This home will always be your home….wherever I am will be your home.”
I meant those words then. And I’d say them again now. But I’m not sure they are true because that’s not how life works.
So I’ve been bracing.
I’ve heard it said – and I apologize for how crass this is but – that a person who is drunk is more likely to survive a car accident because they don’t have the instinct to tense up, to brace themselves. It’s the ever-aware bracing ones who wind up the most hurt.
Did I think bracing, holding on more tightly, making lists, nagging, obsessing, suggesting, asking, directing, controlling…did I think any of that would be helpful? Would slow down time? Would endear anyone else in my home more to my heart?
Did I think it would keep the inevitable at bay?
I’m not sure I was thinking about any of that. I’m not sure frankly that I’ve been in my right mind.
I told a friend that I felt like I was kicking my son out into the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Oh, and that every time I looked at him, I saw him as an 8-year-old with those big eyes looking up at me, asking why he couldn’t stay.
When I’ve been sad in my life, I have tended to willingly wallow in it, to grieve as fully as I can. One way for me is through music, and I’ve had Christa Wells’ song Butterfly on repeat…rewinding and replaying this line over and over…singing along…crying along…
…I would be lying to /
pretend I want to lose /
having you with me /
I want you with me, yes I do
I asked that same friend, through tears, how am I supposed to live the rest of my life not seeing his sweet face every day anymore? She didn’t answer because she doesn’t know.
I’m planning to write my son a letter sometime in the next day or two. I can’t tell him most of this. He wouldn’t understand. And he’d probably think I’m just being ridiculous. But I’ll say other things, things I’ve said before, maybe some things I feel I’ve forgotten, as if I’m running alongside an in-motion train, waving and yelling a final word or two of instruction or love.
How do you just stop mothering after twenty-four-and-a-half years of mothering?
My counselor, my husband, my friends have all said, “You’re not done being their mother, Beth.” (I tend to think in extremes.)
But how will I go on? Really. I’m asking.
I have a life outside of those two. I have a sweet husband. I have work I love. I have a home. I have friends. I have parents and siblings. I have stepchildren and in-law-children and a grandbaby with two more on the way.
But I’ve never loved anyone like I love Sara and Jack. And it’s going to take me some time to downshift, to step back, to let him live his own life the way he wants to live it, in his own rhythms and timing and maybe even long patches of quietness.
And so I’ll hug him standing in our front hallway. And he’ll walk out. And I’ll walk downstairs to his bedroom, and see it empty for the first time in nine years, and I will cry, more than likely, inconsolably for a few moments.
And then, somehow, I don’t know how, I’ll keep going.