Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Whole New Season of Parenting

There are landmines hidden in my days. I never know when I might step into one.

I’m happily putzing along doing my thing – picking up the socks left under the coffee table, making yet another pot of tea instead of writing something, or wiping down the counter– when a thought floats through my mind, “This time next year, Brady will be gone.” I’m overcome, and have to sit down on the couch with his dirty socks in hand.

I find his socks all over the house (and a few on the porch, in the driveway, and of late – in the car). He has hot feet and has always had a horrible habit of removing his socks and abandoning them wherever he happens to be at the time, which is rarely his room and even more rarely the laundry room. He’s been doing this for 18 years, ever since I first covered his precious tiny toes with socks too small for my own thumb.

Somehow, he grew up. I wasn’t prepared for this.

All these years I’ve worked hard to raise a capable child – one that can cook a meal, pack a lunch, use his manners, put gas in the car, clean a bathroom, and be responsible for his own decisions (but not, apparently, his own socks).

The problem with this goal is, that once I’ve accomplished it – he leaves. And that is painful.

I know he should leave.

I know he’s more than ready.

I do want him to leave.

I just had no idea it would hurt this much. Every time I imagine it, my heart clenches so tightly that I gasp and have to find a place to sit down. I worry it will completely shatter when he actually leaves.

This is another of those moments in parenthood that no one warns you about – like the first time your angry child tells you she hates you, or the months of riding in a car with an adolescent learning to drive, or the fact that you will become your own parent and say things you never thought you’d say. Those were all times when I thought – why didn’t anyone warn me about this stuff before?

The baby books are full of warnings of sleepless nights, poopie diapers, and the most likely nonreturn of your prepregnancy tummy. They say nothing about this unwieldy pain. Not a word about your heart being seized, your throat constricting, and the blinking back of tears simply from picking up the dirty socks of an 18-year-old.

I’m trying to treasure the time left with him, but it feels oddly surreal. He leaves his laptop and papers on the kitchen table when I’m trying to set it, or he comes in the door with his earbuds in, completely oblivious to my inquiry about his day or his date. I want to grumble at him, but I’m just so grateful that he’s still here, I hold my tongue. He’s forcing me to rewire my mothering habits
I worry that I wasted too much time. I didn’t spend enough time with him. I squandered opportunities. I was so busy cooking and cleaning and mothering. What if his memories are of my busy-ness and not my love?

I wanted him to grow up competent – that’s why I forced him to get himself up on school mornings on his own, put away his laundry, do the dishes, deal with the consequences of forgetting his homework. Should I have been more gentle, more nurturing? I don’t know, and it’s too late now. Those are the thoughts that tumble through me. Guilt, fear, worry, did I do enough? Did I teach him enough? But, mostly did I love him enough?

He’s going to leave. I can’t wait for him to experience college and life and independence. It’s what I’ve wanted for him all along.

I just don’t know how I’ll bear to watch him go. He’s been a part of my daily life for more than 18 years.

And now he won’t be.

Now I’ll see him at holidays and summer vacations and then once he graduates, even less.

It takes my breath away. It changes my world.

I will miss him doesn’t begin to cover it.

You miss your cousins who only visit at Thanksgiving; you miss the sandwich shop downtown that closed; you miss the earring you lost. But this is so much bigger. Miss just doesn’t seem like a big enough word.

I will miss this precious soul that I was blessed to have in my daily life for nineteen years (if you count the months in my belly). I will miss his humor and his smile that sparkles affectionately all the way up to his eyes. I will miss his thoughtful answers, his honest concern, his snarky retorts, and the way he teases the dog. I won’t miss the dirty socks.

But this pain is more than missing, perhaps this is a variation on mourning.

I must let go of the child I have raised.

I am mourning the end of this season of parenting.

He is still my first baby. He is still my son. 

Only soon he will be my son who no longer lives here. 

And I will begin a new season of parenting.

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