Monthly Archives: September 2014

P.S.

Consider this post a post-script.  One year ago today, I started this blog with the intention of having it serve two purposes: 1) as a warm-up writing exercise before beginning my daily thesis-writing to complete my MFA and 2) as a way of working through my last year with a chick in my nest.  The warm-up soon became a conflagration, completely consuming my other thesis idea, and ultimately I was awarded my MFA last May.  And my baby is now happily situated on a lovely midwestern campus, roughly 485 miles away from our home.  Both purposes have been served.

And then a third and completely unanticipated purpose was served; I found myself connected–in ways you can only hope to be connected when you are pouring your heart out–to a whole community of supporters willing to see me through this year of transition.  My thank-yous will be forthcoming.

Time, like a chick from the nest, flies.  Re-reading my first post from a year ago today brings me back to that day like it was yesterday.  But the first day of Sophie’s last year of high school was not yesterday.  Much has happened since then.

This morning, with no kids to get off to school, I was available to help Howie drop off his car at the dealership for service.  Along the way, we saw parents standing out at bus stops with children of various ages, in the rain.  There are some things I do not miss!  And it flashed through my mind that I feel too tired, anymore, to provide this vigilant assistance; to be a constant presence in the life of a school-aged child.

But there are things I sorely do miss.  Returning home this morning, I saw Sophie’s burnt-orange Ford Focus tucked, forlornly, in the corner of our driveway.  The car she earned the use of by being a good and responsible kid.  The car she earned the gas money for through jobs at Noodles and as a nanny (the job she started, also, one year ago today).  The car she used daily to drive herself (and sometimes others) to school, to work and all around town to meet up with friends.  The car she decorated with radio station stickers and other decals and with the occasional scrape. Other than her empty–and uncharacteristically clean–room, this idle car is the hardest relic for me to look at everyday.

To say I miss all her coming and going is only partly true.  I miss the activity, the life and livliness that having a young person around automatically brings into a house.  But the coming and going has also been a challenge.

I am enjoying living life according to my own schedule, a luxury I am just beginning to get re-accustomed to.  I am enjoying my new position in the English department at Normandale.  I am really enjoying being needed by and useful to other kids, other college freshman as my luck would have it, in ways outside my own family; in ways my hard-won degree has prepared me to be useful.  The skill set we develop as mothers is, also, highly transferable.

Sophie’s coming and going will feel different, from now on.  A friend of mine, whose daughter is a college sophomore this year, said that the coming and going is still the hardest part.  It’s wonderful when the kids return for a visit and it’s still difficult when they leave.  Although friends of mine who have adjusted to the empty nest say that the coming can actually be harder than the going!

A year ago, I didn’t know how I was going to survive the emptying of my nest.  Now I know that there are a few things that make even the most arduous journey bearable.  So here is the part with the thank-yous…

First of all, I must thank my modest but mighty readership for not only reading my posts but commenting on them, as well.  Your support has sustained me throughout this year and filled my heart as I was emptying my nest.  I can’t thank you enough for this touching outpouring of generosity.  Thank you to my WordPress “followers”, my Facebook friends, my fellow bloggers, my thesis and my writing groups.

Thank you to my friend and fellow writer, Susan, who pumped me up and said things like, “You know what you’re going to have to write about at some point, don’t you…” and prompted me with good ideas.  And thank you to all the other good friends who responded to these good ideas.

Thank you to my husband, Howie, who read my posts every day and kindly tolerated my daily chores that went undone almost as often.  Thank you to all my boys–my sons and Howie–for playing the supporting roles in this story.  And a special thank you to my Sophie, who didn’t have as much say in the matter as she should have, as her life was presented as an open book by her mother, the fledgling writer.  Though she had final veto power on all posts, she exercised this power judiciously and was a tremendous sport throughout it all.

I taught a story-writing class at The Loft this summer and taught my students, as my writing teachers taught me, that in order to keep readers interested in a character, that character must undergo some type of transformation.  Though I don’t believe my own tranformation has been very dramatic–if even noticeable–I feel able to move on thanks to all of you.

To all the parents of high school seniors this year and in the future, love your kids while you have them in your homes and look forward to the day that you marvel at their flight.  We’ll all be here to catch you when they fly.

Advertisements

Pack & Hold

Pack & Hold is the registered trademark of Bed, Bath & Beyond’s brilliantly simple “move-in solution” wherein kids leaving home for college can order everything they need (and many things they didn’t even know they needed) from their local BB&B store, and pick it up at the store nearest their campus. It’s also one way to describe so much of what I’ve done with and for Sophie over the years.

When Sophie was a baby, I didn’t want anyone else to hold her. I was so greedy with her, all I ever wanted to do was hold her myself. Nineteen years ago, when I found out I was pregnant with her–my third child–my first goal was just to hold on to the pregnancy for the full nine months. Howie felt our family was complete with the two sons we had, while I begged both Howie and the larger, cosmic powers-that-be for one more. My mantra during that pregnancy was,

“Just get me to June”, knowing that her conception was a fluke of biology (the details are not important) and I was not likely to conceive again if I lost her. In June when I delivered Sophie, I was so grateful for my good fortune at having been allowed not only a third, healthy child but also a daughter, I wanted to hold on to her forever.

When she was late in learning to walk, I asked my own mother,

“Why isn’t she walking yet?” to which my mom replied,

“How can she? You won’t put her down.”

Letting go has never been easy for me. I get very attached to all kinds of things: people, situations, even favorite articles of clothing. Buddhists and/or psychoanalysts would have a field day with me and my attachments. Being the self-diagnosed fear-and-grasping type, I held onto my children as tightly as I could while they were growing up, because A) I’m not that spiritually evolved and B) I consider them among the most precious gifts I have ever received.

Being a mother is supposedly a selfless endeavor, but honestly, we get many needs met through raising our children. We give birth to our own delightful companionship in the form of our children and to delicious physical bodies that for years are ours to have and to hold. It’s a powerful experience to feel needed as intimately and uniquely as we mothers are needed by our children. This bond is essential and one-of-a-kind. And I’ve always considered it a cruel trick of nature that these creatures, once packed tightly inside our very bodies, depend on us to first attach to them on the deepest level then to pack them up and ship them out.

Raising children requires constant packing and unpacking, literally and figuratively. We pack diaper bags, then backpacks and lunches. We pack them for family vacations, sleepovers and sleep-away camps. We help them pack when they get old enough to venture farther from home, say for study-abroad programs or other, life-enriching experiences we’re happy for them to have. And one, dreaded day, we find ourselves in Bed Bath & Beyond, shopping for things to pack them off to college and outfit them for their most one-way flight so far; Twin XL sheets, towels, storage bins, laundry hampers…all in an attempt to help them establish a feeling of home-away-from-home. Now that mine are all grown and gone, I’m trying to unpack what having children–and particularly having them living in my house–has meant for me; beyond the obvious and beyond what I have been able to figure out thus far (in my previous 80+ posts).

Most recently, in the two weeks between Sophie’s return home from two months at summer camp and the start of her freshman year in Kansas, our unpacking and packing frenzy reached epic proportions. I had seen mothers in summers past shopping with college-bound kids, lists in hand, pushing carts through the aisles like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead. I had even been one of these mothers, but both my sons chose to attend college close to home, so we didn’t need to utilize the Pack & Hold program. I joke that when we dropped our eldest off to school, I cried all the way home; all 10 minutes. I was proud that our boys made it to college (another story), I was able to see them almost as often as I wanted & I had Sophie keeping me company at home throughout those two moves.

This last, packing phase before launching my last chick filled me with a frightening dark dread, especially toward the end of the last week. The second-to-the-last night as I lay in my bed, I had a simulated panic attack and found it impossible to calm myself enough to fall asleep. Trouble sleeping, waves of nauseous anticipation, fear of letting go of life-as-we-know-it, all of these symptoms reminded me of the final days of pregnancy. It is in this final phase that the discomfort of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go. It just needs to be over. Every bit of it begins to hurt. And the baby is shifting uncomfortably in her readiness to get out.

The morning of our scheduled departure finally arrived. In a somber procession, we filed past each other as we packed the boxes and duffle bags into the back of the rented van. I packed a cooler with fruit and drinks as Sophie held the cat one last time. I heard her say,

“Goodbye house.”

I packed more Kleenex.

My psyche was on high alert. I noticed every familiar landmark as we left everything that has been and headed for everything that is to be.

And then, an odd surrendering began inside me–one I feared would never happen or if it happened I feared it might kill me–a final release had begun somewhere deep inside me. If I had to locate it, I’d say it happened somewhere between my stomach and chest, somewhere between images from our past and visions for our future, somewhere between Des Moines and Kansas City. Maybe a long-badgered resignation was taking place once every hope of avoiding this inevitable moment was, at last, extinguished.

And in my final act of the day-to-day mothering of this child, I rose up–like a Phoenix–from the ashes of my fearful, clutching, neediest self and became the mother Sophie needed me to be in this moment, there for the sole purpose of providing strength and support to my anxious but excited daughter. I finally relinquished my hold on her and became the most selfless version of myself; the one I’ve always tried/wanted/hoped to be.

And once I released her in this new way, something incredible happened inside me; I felt released, weightless, happy, even.

We got into Lawrence early in the evening, after the seven hour drive, and unloaded all Sophie’s belongings onto two, wobbly dollies. We hauled them up to her room, took her and her new roommate out for a quick hamburger and left the girls to unpack and begin their college experience together.

Then Howie and I headed out for a more leisurely dinner at a Thai restaurant I could picture Sophie hanging out at with her new college friends in the years to come. And I cried through the whole dinner. Our waiter seemed un-phased, remarking that his mother did the same thing when she took him to college. And in the early hours of the next morning, the barista at the Starbucks in our hotel reported that a whole host of mothers had been crying in their coffee these past few days.

Around nine the next morning, Howie and I picked Sophie up for breakfast before heading back home to begin our lives together as empty-nesters and to see what she had done to settle into her new room. Her clothes fit nicely into the plastic, stacking drawers we bought, the trendy, fabric bins were filled, one with brushes and one with snacks, pictures of family and friends were strung around the shelves over her bed that was neatly made up with her hip, new comforter. We commended her on her organizational abilities and her sense of style.

At breakfast, I centered myself in that new-found space I discovered at the very end of our journey to this place and announced to her,

“I’m not going to make this any harder on you than it needs to be.” to which she responded,

“For ONCE!”

And with that, our new order was established. I love her with all the ferocity I have ever felt for her and now that tremendous love is requiring me to let her go; not only for her sake, but also for mine.

There’s a certain, giddy pleasure–a lightness of being–to be found in surviving something you fully expected would kill you. I helped pack Sophie for college, held her as we tearfully hugged goodbye in the parking lot of her dorm, let her go, got back in the van and drove away leaving her standing there on the threshold of her new life and found that I was still breathing.

The first words out of my mouth to Howie, as we exited the parking lot and headed north towards home were,

“I’m glad that’s over.” Saying goodbye to my baby at college was the moment I’d dreaded, on some level, since she was born.

I can see why Bed Bath & Beyond doesn’t call their service Pack & Hold & Release…no one would buy it.