Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, September 17, 2008
My experiment in motherly decompression has gone awry.
It’s not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I’ve tried hard—really, really hard.
Some weeks ago I vowed to ease myself into wielding less of a handle on everything parental. Not the responsibilities, just the control. This has been an effort in making life with his mother more palatable for my son, and less tooth grinding for me. I succeeded—for a while.
Then, suddenly it was September and everything this month brings—both real and imagined—became fodder for my blistering emotions.
First, school started. If you’ve read this column before, you’re familiar with the difficulty I have sending children out the door. I hate it. I want them home with me. I want us to sleep in, hang out, and stay up late.
A teenage boy is not interested in doing this with his mother. In fact, mine was up early and happily out the door to catch the bus on the first day of class. He didn’t want me to drive him, and I only get two more “first days of school” before he turns 18. Ugh.
As he left the house, I felt my diligent, de-controlling practice evaporate with the scent of his peppermint chewing gum. “Got your house key?” “Did you remember lunch money?” “If the bus doesn’t come, come back and I’ll take you.” I pathetically pressed my nose to the window and watched him walk up the hill.
Next, another son turned 28 years old on the sixth of September, and arrived home last week for a surprise visit. He likes to come unannounced—but only to me. Everyone else usually knows his plan. It was a happy, delicious moment and I loved his spontaneity.
I worry about him. He lives life with a vengeance, and always has. He rarely slows down. He’s adventurous, ambitious and engaging.
When he rode away on a motorcycle, I felt my heart split open—again. My final words before he left: “Be safe.”
Why didn’t I say: “Live every moment!” “Keep loving your life!” “Next time bring a helmet for me!” No. I had to tell him to be safe. Chalk another one up for my inability to let go.
Now, this week I face another goodbye. This is the one I dread most of all, and the one I need to prepare for so I don’t become that annoying mother hanging onto the wing of the plane as it departs Seattle for Vienna, Austria.
A third son leaves on Tuesday for another nine months in Europe. He’s living a dream, teaching English in another country, traveling, and learning the culture.
At my request, he lived with us for the summer. He’s been the perfect foil for his younger brother, an enormous help to me, and the nearly ideal housemate. I know that when he leaves, it will be business as usual for the teenager and I. Privately, we’ll miss him more than either one of us will admit.
This son is a seasoned traveler and knows how to get around in the world—he’s done it a lot. He knows about safety, airports, and strangers with candy. However, before he goes away again, I want to remind him about clean underwear and always locking his door. But I might try something different this time.
In the movie, “The Right Stuff”, just before Chuck Yeager goes up in his plane and breaks the sound barrier, his wife simply says, “Go punch a hole in the sky.”
Maybe there’s a reason I remember this particular line in a movie where there are so many other good ones I could recall. Maybe I wish I could be more like the Glennis Yeager character. Maybe that statement gave her husband the freedom to not worry about her and concentrate on his big adventure. Maybe I could do that, too.
These prickly thoughts about letting go make me crazy. But if I was completely honest with my children, this is what I’d say:
“Please don’t forget about me. Please remember where you came from and what I taught you, albeit imperfectly, and all the memories we have. Please make good choices even though I’m not around to remind you. And please remember that I loved you first in this world, and I like to believe that I will always love you most.”
Having said that, my heart might be lighter. And sending those I love to school, off on a motorcycle, or flying to Europe may hurt less.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s the irony: I finally get control. Not of them, but of myself.