TIME FOR LETTING GO: PART ONE
It’s peak season for maternal nostalgia.
It’s back to school time. And I’m not talking about the partially-feigned sadness moms like me exhibit for the first fourteen or so of their children’s back-to-school years.
I admit it was mostly relief when the magic school bus showed up in our driveway like clockwork at 7:50 a.m. Monday through Friday. God bless that bus, and the Superwomen drivers who commandeered it, safely shuttling my children back and forth for years.
I’m talking about when the children drive themselves away—to faraway lands where universities lie, not six miles down the road where the preschool-through-high school, all-under-the-same-big-roof school where our two younger boys spent their at-home school years. My husband’s firstborn son lives just 100 miles down another road with his delightful wife, two-year old daughter and soon-to-be-born son.
This faraway land for Jude, my first-born son happens to be all of 70 miles away from our home. Still, it is worlds away from where we once inhabited the same home, slept under the same roof each night and had dinner at the same table every evening.
We had our last first day of school this week. Wasn’t it just last year, or perhaps the year before, when this was the scene outside our front door?
Joel, my second-born son drove himself those six miles today, just as he did last year. The magic school bus hasn’t been in our driveway for several years now. If he chooses a post-secondary institution in a faraway land next year, the wound will re-open.
I will survive. Again. After all, this is what we groom our children for during the first 18 years. They are welcome to live in my basement, but I’d really rather they don’t, at least not forever. The time comes when our goal of making them independent is met, so we should be happy, right?
When I was pregnant the first time, I recall secretly worshipping any woman who had already endured childbirth. For surviving this rite of passage, she was a goddess in my mind. Knowing full well I would have to endure the pain, I still somehow denied the inevitable. How did she do it? How could any woman do it? How will I do it? There’s no way I can do it. Then I did it. I had no choice.
Then, as I prepared to send that baby off to college, I secretly worshipped any woman who had already endured this separation. For surviving this rite of passage, she was a goddess in my mind. Again, denying the inevitable, I asked the same questions: How did she do it? How could any mother do it? There’s no way I can do it. Then I did it. I had no choice.
Four days ago, he left again. This makes the third year. It was easier, but the day was blue. Here we go again. There he went again.
Joel followed him those 70 miles down the road with the big stuff in his little truck.
They made it to the university, and Joel made it back.
I don’t recall giving a flip about how my parents felt when I left for college. Granted, I was the fifth of seven children, so it was likely old hat for them. It meant one less hungry mouth in the house, but still, I know they missed each of us. Perhaps a little less acutely each time, but each of us had our own niche that we filled, and then vacated in our family of nine.
As I write, Gail is going through it again. Wyatt, her third child, is moving into the dorm at the same university with my son. She has two older daughters from her first marriage who are 33 and 31, and her two younger children are 18 and 17. This is her first son, and her husband’s first experience with a child moving away.
Her last child will be a senior next year, and, like me, she will have the empty nest the year after that.
Suzanne, the youngest sister, the expert on so many things Gail and I have never experienced, has lived in an empty nest for three years now. Her only child, Julia, happens to be at the same university.
There was no official departure picture, as she has lived there all summer. We only staged this to match the others.
The cousins, as I write, are together at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Another cousin—my brother’s oldest child—is there too. Another cousin graduated from there last year, and Gail’s oldest daughter graduated from there as well 11 years ago.
Six hundred is a conservative estimate for Gail’s CD collection. Ever since they came into production, she has been collecting them. Her tastes are mostly in country and rock, peppered with a little bit of everything else.
I recall perusing her behemoth collection 25-plus years ago when we lived in the same town. She had the coolest bands, artists and soundtracks. One artist jumped out at me because of his name: Jude Cole. That name sounded ultra-cool to me, and I tucked it away. “That would be a great name for a boy someday,” I thought. But that was pre-husband, pre-“he could be the one” days. Still, I didn’t forget the name.
Seven years later, I had a baby boy, and we named him Jude. My husband had a favorite teacher by that name, and he liked the name, too.
I have one of Jude Cole’s songs on my iPod. Just at the right moment during my run the day before Jude left, it played: “It’s time for letting go.”
Again. So we did. All three of us.
A dear friend—as I write—is moving her first child into his dorm room further down the road for his first year. I know it has weighed heavy on her for months; I know because I remember those months of carrying around that anvil of heaviness, dreading the departure day in months, weeks, and then just days away when it’s time for letting go the first year. I told her there is nothing I can say or do that will prepare her for this. No wise words, no gestures, nothing that will deaden the pain; lift the weight. The rite of passage must be passed through. Through, not around, not under or over, but through.
Another dear friend whose mother has been ill for months made the decision with her siblings to place their mother in hospice care. They, too, know it’s time for letting go. I told her the same thing just yesterday: my heart breaks for you, but nothing I can say or do will prepare her for losing her mother. She, too, must pass through this. She lost her dad when she was 17, so she knows the pain already. Still, there are no magic words. She understands. She knows her dad is with her, and her mother will be, too.
I survived childbirth twice. I survived losing my parents. I survived my firstborn leaving for college—again. So have so many other women. So many others will continue to survive all three rites of passage. And their dads will survive the departure too.
If you are struggling in the process of going through any of these, or perhaps facing the pain in the near future, we are with you. The girls of The Sister Lode have made it through, just like thousands—millions—of other women. You will too.