So we had what one might describe as our most interesting spring break this year. My thirteen-year-old EIGHTH GRADER went on a week-long trip to New York City with only her schoolmates and some teacher and administrator chaperones. No parents allowed. Meanwhile, the eleven-year-old FIFTH GRADER had to stay home part of the week with mom (groan: that’s boring and lame when sis is in exciting NYC seeing Broadway show after Broadway show), and part of the week she had to stay with GRANDMA (also boring when you’re an eleven-year-old who is used to “doing something” almost every hour of every day of the week) while MOM attended a conference in San Diego, California from Thursday through Monday night.
Now I know that all of you moms are thinking: WTH kind of logistics did that woman have to manage to get one daughter off to NYC; herself off to the opposite side of the country; the cats fed and watered; the dog relieved, fed, watered, and played with; the second child soothed over feelings of abandonment AND delivered to various and sundry appointments, practices, and rehearsals; and the eighty-year-old grandmother reassured that she’s got this? I thought I might resort to intravenous drug use, quite honestly, but somehow, we all managed to be where we needed to be on time, with adequate supplies of underwear and food, and without too many complete meltdowns. I say without too many meltdowns because there were, indeed, about twenty meltdowns, including at least one from each of the various people and animals mentioned above.
But I write this blog post not about the harrowing arrangements, lost tempers, and irrational fears of a family of single women and pets. I write this blog post because we survived. We survived, and we learned a little bit more about how to be ourselves without the others. We grew, and some of us grew up.
As I wipe away the tears fueled by continued stress over trying to catch up after so long being away, I am trying to see and feel the positive things that came out of this whole exercise. Three lessons emerge: 1) Kids are incredibly resilient, and if we’ve done our job, they’re able to act appropriately and independently without us; 2) Moms sometimes have to leave their kids with someone they trust, and that’s OK; and 3) Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
First, resilience. I marvel at how resilient my kids are. I didn’t have a fraction of the challenges they have had to face in their short lifetimes, and I was a big fat baby about ALL OF the stuff I did go through (which amounted to moving ONCE, basically, in 7th grade, after which I cried every day for about four months). My parents were happily married until my dad died about five years ago; we weren’t rich, but we had enough and we knew we could count on both parents for support and guidance; we had the same friends for our whole lives who went to the same schools and shared the same middle-class rather conservative homogenous upbringing. We shared summers with cousins and siblings and rode our bikes around town visiting friends at every corner. My kids, on the other hand, are “mixed” as they like to refer to it, and they have to deal with a whole new set of challenges concerning their race that I don’t have experience handling; their parents are divorced and their dad hasn’t been around for years; their mom works three plus jobs just to barely keep her head above water (well, truthfully, she’s sinking more and more by the day); they have only grandma and me to count on for support and encouragement; they’ve moved and changed schools several times, having to make new friends along the way. Yet they thrive—they are confident, they are brave, they are smart, they are resourceful, they are daring, and they are loving and caring beyond where I was even at twice their age. All of these qualities became clearly solidified to me during this spring break as we truly “broke” away from each other and experienced new ways of being without each other. That’s so reassuring to me. It’s reassuring to me while at the same time it’s frightening. I don’t want my kids to let go of me or stop needing me, yet I pray for their ability to do so.
Next, moms sometimes have to leave. I have avoided leaving my children with anyone else their whole lives. I always figured it was my job and no one would do it as good as or better than me, so I better stick around and stay with them. I missed parties, trips, gatherings, work events, probably some work promotions along the way, and other things that might have made me personally happy. But I was just one of those moms who couldn’t let go and let someone else be in charge of my kids. Except for grandma (especially during the grueling Ph.D. years) and one VERY close friend, those girls were with me 24-7. But as they’ve grown older, and as they and I have matured, we have all realized that mom sometimes needs to go away for work or needs to get a few hours with her friend for a cocktail or a brief dinner. I’ve become more comfortable leaving them alone during daylight hours and with friends at night. Turns out, they enjoy the little bit of freedom, and I enjoy it too. The best part of it is when we all get to come home together and share our stories and lots of hugs and appreciation with each other.
Finally, absence does make the heart grow fonder. I miss them terribly when they’re gone or when I’m away from them. I cry at night before I go to sleep thinking about how I’d like to be hugging them instead of sleeping alone in a strange hotel room in some unfamiliar city or worrying that they’ve eaten, bathed, brushed their teeth or felt loved. But being away allows me to see them from a distance and remember all the best things about each of them. Being gone helps me to realize that my little pet peeves and their little idiosyncrasies don’t really matter—they’re my babies, still, and I crave them. Taking that step away, putting some distance between them and me, helps all of us realize what we value about each other and why we continue to want to come back together when our adventures are all done.
So moms, don’t despair when your kids start asking to do things without you. Accept that your family and friends really do want you to be happy and to spend time on yourself. Let them take a turn with the kiddos—most likely, they won’t break them. Don’t let fear and anxiety take opportunities away from yourself or your kids. Take a deep breath, exhale long and hard, and prepare for the rewards and lessons that will inevitably come from the growth you’ll experience by letting go and letting your little birds fly on their own. The step is worth the risk. Love survives.