This blog is going to sway from our normal topic of travel adventure and be a bit more personal. The writing is also going to come from just Jen this time as she delves into how she is processing change- putting it on paper.
A Mother Knows
As with most mothers out there, I can tell you the time each of my children were born, how much they weighed, the age they began walking and their favorite shows throughout the years. Being a mom was what I was meant to be. I could soothe their crying within seconds because I knew exactly what to do to calm them. I knew their schedules and what time they needed to be in bed or else there would be some unexpected sleep walking in the middle of the night.
I knew which color Gatorade not to buy. I knew the cookies to bake at Christmas and the right birthday cakes to have for each child. I drove to each dentist, doctor, and orthodontist appointment without skipping a beat. My minivan cruised around the state, and even the country, to sporting events that I thought would be endless. I spent nights cleaning up stomach bug debris and sleepless nights in the ER. I was the referee and the peacemaker to the fights amongst brothers that never seemed to end.
I watched baseballs shatter windows and hockey pucks tear through siding. I bleached sport uniforms and ironed dress shirts for concerts and formal dances (normally with a one-hour notice). I was the finder of all their missing treasures and the holder and protector of their favorite things. I was their constant cheerleader in the stands, in the crowd, and by their side- no matter the event. It was my favorite place to be.
The transition between different stages of life was always met with a few tears. One minute they were asleep cradled in my arms and the next they were nervously off to their first day of high school. The television no longer played Blue’s Clues or Dora the Explorer but had war scenes being acted out from the XBox. The refrigerator no longer held baby bottles, but gallons upon gallons of milk that would disappear in a matter of days. Those sleepless nights turned from watching fevers to waiting for the text that they arrived safely to their destination. Flag football turned into full on tackle while I held my breath and prayed they were ok after every hit.
I knew early on to be in every moment. Enjoy the present and try not to mourn the days that have gone. Treat every game like the last, because you just never know if they will decide another activity calls their name. Even through all these changes, one thing remained the same; my job and role as mother. I was their constant. I was still needed at every turn and relied on. It was my identity, and I loved every second of it.
Don’t get me wrong; they drove me absolutely crazy, and still do. There were days that I thought someone was not going to make it out of the house alive. I would cry myself to sleep at night fearing I was doing so many things wrong, and they would be in therapy for years as a result. I prayed none of them authored a book called Mommy Dearest. I looked forward to my house being silent for a few hours so I could catch my breath. But I would always look forward to the return of the noise and chaos of my boys.
Eventually the moment arrives that the inevitable is no longer approaching, but it is here. Senior year. Even though this is not my first child to cross that stage I lived in a wonderful place called the Land of Denial. It is one of my favorite places to be. In this land, time is endless and even though the last 18 years have passed in the blink of an eye, their senior year will be in slow motion. The gift of time will finally be given to you.
Like all the other years this will whip by in an instant, and to add salt to the wound, they will be the most independent they have ever been. They will drive themselves to school and practices. They will not want to hang out with you on Saturday night and watch lame movies but will want to be with their friends. They will have their own political opinions that did not come from you and will fight for new beliefs they hold. Of course, some may still not know how to operate a washing machine or how to answer when the doctor asks if they have ever had surgery, but we are taking baby steps here.
One of my favorite memories of my recent graduate is his one and only actual college visit. As much as I was taking in the beautiful buildings scattered across campus, I took him in more. I watched his face light up and the smirk that appeared at every turn. To watch your baby, I mean child, find their place and be present for it is a moment to behold.
High School graduation is a whirlwind. There are so many activities leading up to the big day that I did not have time to process what was happening. I was at everything with my camera ready to capture any and all moments I could before all his friends scattered across the country. The ceremony officially marks the end of their childhood. There is a finality there and for me, I felt the narrowing of time as a physical force.
I know from experience that once you cross that stage nothing will be the same. You will have one last carefree summer with your friends that witnessed every stage of growth by your side. One will not come back next summer, but will be taking that summer to study abroad and every summer after that they will find a reason not to come ‘home.’ Another will join the military and not have a choice where they end up. One may end up off the grid and change completely from who they once were. I sat back and watched his childhood coming to a close that summer.
Lists and Emotions
I did what any sensible person does when something is looming overhead – I kept busy with lists upon lists. If he was leaving me soon, I wanted to make sure we had everything ready and organized for his departure. I shopped and stacked boxes and set reminders on when to get what done. I watched videos posted by the college and followed every social media page available. If I had everything perfectly in a row than I would be ready to let go. Right?
A few days before it was time to go, I watched the reality hit my son. He was going to be leaving the comfort of his home, his family and his friends. Excitement now had a spot of nervousness with it and that was ok. With his nerves growing this forced me to be the reassuring one, in front of him at least. Behind closed doors I cried at basically everything. It is difficult to explain the range of emotions you go through. I was and still am beyond excited for him and his future. But….. But you are losing a piece of your being at the same time. Each kid is different and brings a different life force to your home. This one brings a sense of calm without saying a word.
I was hit with so many questions all at once. Who is going to steal the mixing bowl when I am done making brownies? Who is going to watch This Is Us with me and scream at the tv? Who am I going to yell at for procrastinating on his assignments…again? Who am I going to hear laughing the only way he can?
Now that you are crying with me, we are at college drop off day. My vehicle is packed with every possible necessity, and I am “ready” to leave him at the doorsteps of his future. I literally watch him sleep in the car for a little while because I know how long it will be until I can do this again. He is ready and I have done my job as his mother. The University has resources available to help him with any curveball that may be thrown his way, so I have nothing to worry about. There is a Health Center, counselors, safety officers at every turn and levels upon levels of advisors…..all to replace me.
That hug goodbye is the toughest one I have given him so far in his life. This is it; it will never be the same from here. It is goodbye to an era. I will always be his mom, but my role in his life is forever changed. He is an adult now and just as quickly as I had adjusted to my ever-changing role in his life, it was changing yet again.
Who Am I?
My being is so wrapped up in being a mom, that I am not sure who I am outside of that. My oldest still comes to me for advice and I cherish my moments of being needed though they are fewer and farther between as he finds his own footing in the world. I still have one at home, but he has just two years left in my protected nest. Can you even imagine how I will be at that final drop off?! Yeah, me either…. That full empty nest is staring me in the face and will not be ignored. I had to look at myself and figure out what my identity would become. Something I have not had to do since I was 19 years old. It is scary and it is something I did not want to do.
Raising these boys is the greatest accomplishment of my life. Truly. While I miss their little faces and pre-adolescent voices, I freaking love seeing the men they are growing into. They have brilliant ideas and incredible senses of humor. They realize the value of a dollar and are a bit cheap (even when I am buying.) I love listening to each and every story they tell me and realize how lucky I am that they tell me each and every story. Most of all, they love me just as fiercely as they did when they were two years old running and jumping into my arms.
Now that I have accepted the growth, now to do some of my own. What interests do I have? I can tell you that travel was an easy one for me and allowed me to focus on future plans and adventures. A way to bring joy to the next stage of life. I have a thousand and one places I want to see and I will see them all. As much as I would like to take weekly trips, my bank account would protest a bit. My husband came up with a brilliant idea to not only fulfill my travel bug, but to also fill my identity. Become travel agents and open travel for other people. Two birds, one stone.
My advice to you is to find your thing and go with it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Try new things, and if it doesn’t work, move on to the next. Take the art class you have always wanted to take or buy the Peloton bike just for yourself. Rediscover the violin and play for anyone that will listen. Find yourself again, the one that has been taking a back seat all these years. She is there ready when you are.
Good luck to all of our children moving to the next stage of their lives. And good luck to the moms that are doing the same.
Thanks for reading.