I’ve been anticipating this day for the past 18 years. The beginning of the end.
Or maybe anticipating isn’t the right word. Let’s just say that I mentally planned for it, emotionally prepared for it, and was even EXCITED about the prospect of it.
What the hell was I thinking, I wonder now as I sit here now wanting to cry my eyes out for the 10th time this month. Because 18 years ago I held a tiny baby in my arms (when I probably wasn’t qualified to raise a puppy, let alone a human being) and this day seemed like eons in the future. Then I blinked and suddenly it was at my doorstep.
When my son broke the news to me earlier this year that he wanted to move back to IL for college, I was shocked. Actually, that’s an understatement. I was devastated, bewildered, heartbroken and even a little angry. I sobbed, I yelled at his dad for what I imagined was his plotting behind my back (totally not the case), and in my head I began thinking of ways I could either bribe him or force him to stay. I know what you’re thinking…gee Mom, crazy much?? When it comes to my kids, you bet your sweet ass I can be. Fortunately, I returned to a rational state of mind a few days later when I had an epiphany about the whole situation:
I was making this all about me, when it should really be all about him.
Sounds basic, but it was a difficult concept to wrap my head around. You see, I was his age when he was born, which means I’ve already been raising a kid for HALF MY DAMN LIFE. Which means that my entire adult life has revolved around making decisions not only for myself, but for him, and in what I believed were his best interests. Momma knows best. Even when I didn’t, I pretended that I did, because otherwise I would be forced to admit the cold hard truth that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing most of the time and was really just playing a game of trial and error with another person’s life. NBD, right?
All the while he was growing up, I was too. And since our growth was happening simultaneously, it was maybe less obvious to me how quickly time was elapsing and how much had really changed. It’s like watching a flower bloom. You can sit and stare at it all day and feel like nothing is happening, but then you step away and come back the next morning to a bud that’s been completely transformed. That moment of him telling me he was ready to leave, fly away from his nest, leave the one person that had been a part of his daily life since it began, was the moment I realized that transformation had taken place.
Being the kind-hearted and empathetic person he is, he told me all the things I needed to hear (whether true or not); that it wasn’t about him not being happy in CA, or with me, he was just craving change. He also wanted to reconnect with his dad, childhood friends, and the area in which he spent the first 10 years of his life. He wasn’t running away from something as I had originally feared, he was running TO something. It was something new and yet familiar at the same time. The perfect transition to the first part of his adult life, I realized. And so I fought off my own maternal instinct to keep him as close to me as humanly possible, and agreed to let him go. Of course, legally, I couldn’t have stopped him, but I could have easily manipulated the situation to have a different outcome, which would have been horribly selfish and self-defeating in my responsibility as a parent to raise a strong, independent young adult.
So here we are, one week away from our mom and son epic roadtrip, and the beginning of a new chapter – for both of us. At the end of our trip, I’ll return home to CA, and he…won’t. Sure he’ll visit often (every weekend, right kid? Lol), and I’ll call and text him endlessly in between, expecting only periodic responses because I know how the teenage mind works. But life will never be the same again for either of us. I’ll never wake him up in the morning and hurry him out the door for school. I’ll never pack him another lunch filled with plenty of healthy fat and protein because the kid has the most unbelievable metabolism and can’t seem to gain weight. I’ll never cheer him on at another baseball game, basketball game, or track meet. The nevers seem endless, and they’re all I can focus on right now, even though I know there are still plenty of new experiences we’ll have together. And plenty of time to get to know each other as friends and equals, which I believe is the next chapter of our relationship.
Although we’re not quite there yet. I’m still clinging to the past with an unexplainable death grip. It would have sounded crazy to me all those years ago, but I would give anything to temporarily go back 3 years…5 years…10 years…and see that freckled baby-face again, grinning at me in the morning as he leaps out of bed, full of energy and ready to take on the new day. I want to revisit the days of reading bedtime stories, watching Spongebob for hours on end, rubbing his back as he hangs over a toilet at 2am with the stomach flu. What a dummy I was back then for not fully appreciating just how precious and short-lived those moments would be, vomit and all. I want to hear him chatter away at me nonstop over dinner, on the subject of video games, or a new favorite cartoon, or which lego set he wants to ask Santa for next Christmas. Occasionally I “shushed” him when the rambling became too much for my overwhelmed and exhausted mind to bear, but I would happily listen to it now, uninterrupted, versus the silence I encounter when he’s lost in his own thoughts or buried in his phone. Maybe he thinks I can’t understand. Maybe he thinks we’re so different. All the typical thoughts that someone his age WOULD think. But I was there once also, and it feels like only yesterday…because it practically was.
Over the course of our 3-day drive to IL, I plan to take full advantage of our time together, in case it’s our last adventure for a while that is just the two of us. We’re stopping at some cool landmarks in Utah and Colorado, where I’ll ask him to take lots of selfies with me, and he’ll oblige, even while cringing on the inside. We’ll chat about life lessons, family memories, and future plans…or at least try. But me being me, I’ll be too hyper-sensitive and choked up to get the right words out, and him being him, he’ll prefer to play music, nap and avoid any more emotionally awkward conversations (of which we’ve had plenty this past year). Odds are if he’s reading this right now, he’s already regretting his decision to go with me.
Even though my words seem lost on him most days, hopefully on some level, he hears me. If not now, maybe 5 or 10 years down the road when he’s more receptive to it. I hope he hears me when I say I love him, that I’ve loved him since the day I felt him do a somersault in my belly, and that I’ll love him until the end of eternity. I hope he hears me when I playfully tussle his hair and tell him that he’ll always be my baby, my first love, and my favorite blue-eyed son. I hope he hears me when thank him for being patient and forgiving as I flubbed my way through the early years of his life. I hope he hears me when I apologize for being gone too many days and nights trying to build a career and get my life in order, and that it in my heart I was doing it all for him, even if it didn’t seem that way. I hope he hears me when I tell him about my past mistakes so that he will not repeat them, even though I’m certain he will, at least on a few occasions, because the apple never falls far from the tree. In that regard, I hope he also hears me when I tell him about redemption and forgiving yourself for past mistakes, because who you were yesterday does not have to dictate who you will become tomorrow. I hope he hears me when I tell him that he’s better than me, not to inflate his ego but to remind him when he feels inadequate that he’s made up of the best parts of both me and his father. I hope he hears me when I tell him that he is the product of love, and that he was always WANTED, even if he wasn’t PLANNED. And that he saved me from myself; saved me from a life of selfishness and foolishness, gave me purpose, and taught me the true meaning of unconditional love and sacrifice. I hope he hears me when I tell him to find his own purpose, and his own path, and that no matter what it is or where it leads, I will never be more than a whisper away. Because when a piece of your soul is out there wandering the world, the rest of it can never be far behind.
I see him rolling his eyes at all of this right now, as is his way. I know he thinks I’m overly dramatic, overly emotional, overly long-winded. And he’s right. But I’m a mother and I know of no other way to be. The thought of him out there in this fucked up world, trying to navigate it without me hovering over him, scares the living daylights out of me. Then I talk to other parents and am reminded that it scares the living daylights out of ALL OF US, just like our parents before us, and theirs before them. Which had to have been especially tough without the luxury of modern day communication methods. If I think my son ignoring my text messages is frustrating, I can only imagine how I’d feel after sending multiple telegrams with no response. I’d be on the next horse out of town trying to track down answers.
Luckily he’s only going to be a 4-hour plane ride away. And who knows, maybe he’ll hate it back in IL once he realizes that winter for adults is not as fun as winter for kids. Or maybe he’ll stay a couple years and then transfer to a larger university somewhere else, maybe in Chicago (still his favorite city) or even another state like Colorado, where we’re stopping along our roadtrip because I have this gut feeling that he’ll love it there. My friends tease me by saying he’ll eventually come back to CA once he sees that no place else quite compares, but I try not to get my hopes up. Because while he is a part of me, he is not me. He’s always marched to the beat of his own drum, and I know he’ll continue to roam until he finds a safe and comfortable landing place.
But I hope he knows that he already has one right here with me, if and when he ever needs it.
And I guess it’s not really the beginning of the end; just the end of the beginning.
That’s much easier to swallow.