Facebook is filled with posts and images of children transitioning from one stage in life to another. There are the little ones who are going to pre-school for the first time. Their moms’ are both excited and nervous. Then there are the new middle schoolers and high school students. Perhaps the most touching of all are the young men and women who are going away for college. Their mamas are remembering the times that they held their babies in their arms and when they folded their baby clothes. Suddenly without warning childhood has ended and the babies are ready to spread their wings and work toward becoming totally independent from their parents. I sometimes wonder if the uncertainties of leaving home are more difficult for the mothers than they are for the young people who see the unknown as a well earned adventure. Life is suddenly very different and no matter how well everyone has prepared for the changes, they take all by surprise.
I remember driving my eldest daughter, Maryellen, to the University of Texas in Austin. At first I kept busy helping her set up her dorm room but when it came time to drive away and leave her on campus my heart almost burst open. I hid the tears that were forming in my eyes until Mike had driven far enough away that she would not see. Then the dam that had been holding back my emotions burst. I sobbed for at least an hour. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to wake up each morning and not see her face or go to sleep each night not knowing that she was safely tucked in. I eventually adjusted just as all parents do. I understood that it was in her best interests to begin to move away from me. Her confidence in her own abilities was proof that I had done a good job as a parent. It is the nature of life for our young ones to slowly but surely progress into their adult roles. If my daughter had never left my home I would have had more to worry about than when she made that important leap into the adult world. Nonetheless, those first days and weeks and months without Maryellen in my home were some of the most distressing of my life. As a good mom I of course never let her know just how emotional I was feeling.
I had thought that it would be easier to leave my youngest daughter, Catherine, at Texas A&M. By then I was experienced with the process of granting freedom to a child. She was a bit older than Maryellen and had always been a good level headed girl who gave me little reason for concern. Still I found myself feeling the same fears and worries as I had before. I shed tears once again and I imagined how I utterly lonely I would be now that my home was officially an empty nest. Just as before I adjusted over time.
It has now been many seasons since I first watched my children walk away from me. After college they moved hundreds of miles away to places that took two days of driving to reach. They began their own lives as mothers and I only saw my grandchildren once or twice a year. It was difficult but I saw that they were happy and thriving and enjoying the adventure of experiencing new things. As a mom I had to rejoice with them and find a way to feel better about having them so far from me. Eventually both of them returned to Texas. I get to see them often and I know that all that they have done on their own has made them exceptional women. I have grown close to each of my seven grandchildren. I visit their schools and attend their ballgames, swim meets, plays, and special programs. I so love sharing special times with them and I get a bit sad whenever it is time for them to go home. Ultimately I understand that this is the way of the world. I also celebrate just how lucky we are in the era of instant communication. Because of phones and computers I can follow their daily routines as though they are in the next room. They are never really too far away.
Now my eldest daughter is repeating the moment that once filled me with both anxiety and joy. She is taking her son, Andrew, to Lafayette, Indiana to begin his studies at Purdue University. She will help him set up his dorm room and perhaps provide him some pearls of wisdom to guide his actions in her absence. Then she will board a plane and fly back home. I suspect that just as I did so long ago she will cry and realize how much she is going to miss him. It will be difficult for a time to pass by his room. She will find herself looking for him to come in the door. She will want him home but know that it is best if he stays where he is. When he does well she will feel a sense of satisfaction in knowing that she prepared him just as she should have. It will be one of those bittersweet occasions in life when the proper outcome is to let him go rather than hold him back. Such is the way of life’s passages.
From the time that they are born our goal is to prepare our children for the moment when they will leave us. If we are successful we celebrate while quietly grieving a little. Our lives change and so do theirs. Nothing ever stays exactly the same. The nature of life is to adapt and progress.
Today I feel both Maryellen’s pain and pride. Her son, Andrew, is as fine a young man as ever there was. He clearly understands that he must find out who he is and how he wants to live the rest of his life. He longs to see the world and experience its possibilities. His adventures may ultimately keep him far away from home. The fact that he has enough faith in his own abilities is a testament to his parents’ and the fine job that they have done in raising him.
I see friends like Becky, and Catha smiling with great joy but also admitting to the emotions that are crowding their minds as they also send their young sons off to college. They, like my daughter, Maryellen, are remembering those times when they rocked their baby boys at night or sat up with them when they were sick. They vividly recall each and every milestone from the first baby steps to the drivers’ licenses that heralded the initial bids for freedom. Their children have filled the spaces in their hearts for so many days and weeks and years that it is difficult for them to imagine life without them. As Becky said they feel a sense of joy, sadness, and pride all at one time.
I can assure Maryellen and Becky and Catha that acceptance does come and with it there is a sense of having accomplished something quite wonderful. Every mother knows all too well that her role as guide and caretaker never really ends even when her children appear to need her less and less. She is always waiting in the wings for those times when they return for advice or succor or just a warm hug. They may be absent but they are never really gone.
I feel a flood of emotion as my grandson, Andrew, begins a new chapter in his life. I will worry a bit for him even though I believe that he will have few problems. I will find myself often wondering how he is doing. I will think about him everyday just as I always have. We mamas don’t ever completely get over the fact that our babies and then their babies grow up. No matter how old and successful they may become we will always think of them just as they were when they needed us for their very survival. It will embarrass them just a bit that we are so sentimental and silly until the day when they are walking in our shoes and then they will understand.
I would encourage those of you who are experiencing a transitional moment with your precious children to let your emotions run free. What is happening is normal and natural. Our feelings define us as human beings. Know that you are moving into a new phase of living even while you watch your children transform into the people that they were meant to be. The universe continues just as it always has and you are playing your part in its advance. You will ultimately be fine and so will your sons and daughters.
Best of luck to the moms, the dads, and the young people who are in the process of becoming. It is a beautiful thing.