We are cuddling on the couch, I am sitting and my 18-year-old son has his head in my lap. I am massaging his scalp and telling him how much I have missed him since he left for college. His eyes are watery and I know he might cry but he’s safe here, I am his mom.
He has cried a lot this past week. More than he has in years.
It’s been a hard one.
He feels ashamed and humiliated, he fears the failure he has permitted, even invited, at his first year of college means that HE is a failure…that he is somehow innately flawed beyond repair. He may fail out of college. Not from partying too much. He might fail because it was too much and he gave up. He became depressed and withdrew. He decided to stop trying because it seemed easier that way.
He won’t understand until he is much older that failure is just a part of the journey and that we can learn and grow the most during the times we fall the farthest. But he’s young. He’s got time to figure it out.
18 years old.
I am sitting across the table from my 14-year-old son. He’s talking about his dad, who I divorced six years ago because of irreconcilable differences (AKA: we just couldn’t make it work and both be reasonably happy). He is telling me that his dad is like Superman to him. He is saying that he really does see him as a perfect human being and while I know his dad isn’t perfect, I can’t not be deeply touched by how much he admires him. My son gets really passionate, listing off all of the ways his dad is a great dad and a great person. I don’t disagree although some tiny part of me feels something, maybe jealousy, maybe anger, maybe sadness at the loss of the deep admiration I once had for his father too. And I feel it again but in a new way, through his eyes, his innocence and yet wise perception of his father and the part of me that is still suffering from divorce injury heals a little more. When I drop him off and say hello to his dad and keep my respectful and appropriate distance from my former partner of 20 years, I feel a sense of love (but not longing) that has been gifted to me by my youngest child. He’s the wisest one of all.
14 years old.
I have travelled across the country at the crack of dawn on a Thursday to visit my almost 21-year-old daughter in her junior year of college. I didn’t sleep much the night before and I can never sleep on planes, so I arrive feeling every one of my 48 years, achy and foggy and wiped out. It’s lunchtime in Oregon and she has only been awake for a short time. Her energy and excitement is contagious and I conceal my exhaustion and give her my undivided attention until she leaves for practice when I collapse into her bed and sleep for a little while. When she returns we go to dinner and I watch her drink a margarita with her roommate and giggle and seem so grown up. The days pass in a blur of activity that involves hiking, shopping, shopping, shopping, and more shopping. I cook for a big group of her friends and I share the touching music video of a song I want sung at my upcoming gay wedding in Texas and she and her friends cry watching it. I remember that this is the same daughter who had a violent reaction to the news of my gayness and I cannot believe how much change has occurred and how far she’s come and how much she sees me and loves me anyway. It’s not easy to get to that place of accepting your parents for who they are…which is never quite who you wish they were.
She accepts me now. She loves me. She doesn’t care if I am gay.
She is glad I am her mom.
At the airport today as she let me hold on too tightly at our goodbye and I sobbed and told her how much I adore her and how proud I am of her and how fun is it to watch her become an adult. I am always reminded in these moments of goodbye with her of all of my own goodbyes with my mom and all of her tears which I always felt were a bit melodramatic because “my god I would see her again in a few months”.
21 Years Old
My mom has been dead 12 years on March 28th. Here I am again at this anniversary, this day that marks the moving forward from 11 years to 12. I will have no more goodbyes at airports with her but I feel her so deeply in my soul, we connect in those moments in ways we couldn’t when she was still here because I didn’t know this phase of parenting yet.
The always worrying and missing your kids but still letting go phase.
The knowing they are making bad choices but also knowing you have to let them fail to grow phase.
The seeing the results of your lazy parenting and knowing it’s too late to fix it now phase.
The listening to their wisdom instead of doing all of the talking phase.
The stepping back into the shadows phase.
The excessive care taking and cooking for them and doing their laundry when they visit phase.
It’s kind of a hard phase. But I like it. And I hate it too.
I am holding my six-foot, 1 inch tall giant 18-year-old son on the couch as we try to figure out what will happen with his freshman year of college. I am watching his eyes fill and I am telling him that it’s going to be ok and he looks at me and says, “you are so good at making people feel special, mom.”
That’s a sweet thing to say.
My brain immediately thinks two things:
- Making your kids feel special (to you, not necessarily to the world…we don’t want to raise a bunch of narcissists) is the most important thing a mom can do. If I have done that then I am probably doing a decent job at this mom thing.
- I think that’s the hardest part of your mom dying because there is no longer a person looking at you with a giant pair of “I adore you so much” rose colored glasses any more. I miss being loved like that. It’s ok. I am good, healthy, strong, happy…but I do miss being loved like that, in that special mom way.
I miss so many things about my mom.
I wish I could talk to her about the complexities of this phase of motherhood. I would have so many things to say and so many questions to ask.
But most of all, I am so grateful she taught me how to love my children well. Being loved so deeply has given me the ability to love deeply. Thank you, Mom for giving me that gift. I know some daughter don’t get that. I am so glad I did.