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Friday, September 3, 2021

It's Not About Me

I would describe my mothering style as that of a bird. Meaning I'm the type of mama that can't rest until all her birds are in the nest. I like to keep their bodies warm and their bellies full and have a bird's-eye view so I can see all of them and keep them safe.
In one weekend we took my oldest son to college and our second son to boarding school. 
This had been the plan since January but as each summer week passed I began to have this ache in my heart that only seemed to get tighter. 
Friends kept asking me how I was going to feel when two of the boys left at the same time.  I would flippantly respond with something about our grocery bill being cut in half.  A little-known fact about me is that I often make jokes when I want to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions.  Ironically, I was also voted the most humorous in both my high school and undergrad class.  That is expert-level avoidance.
The truth was, I wasn't ready for them to leave. 
But it's not about me.
A decade ago I was talking to a friend and told her I could never send my sons away to high school as she had done for her daughters.  She responded with, "It's not about you."
I took a long sip of my wine and I thought her comment was cold and not very maternal at all.   Does a bird push her chics out of the nest until she is confident they can fly? No. 
Until I was standing in the middle of campus as thunder crashed and big raindrops began to fall and I clung to my son.  Getting accepted to this school has been his dream, and here we were. My husband began to walk away but I couldn't let go.  Just 11 years ago I was dropping him off at preschool and he clung to my ankles screaming as I walked away dragging him along the hallway.  Even though it is a performing arts school I wondered if it would be too dramatic if I reversed roles and did the same thing to him.  
I regretted this boarding school decision. I wanted to tell him he could get into the car right now and... I heard my friend's words and thought, it's not about me. 
I told him I loved him and he walked away not looking back.  It had started to rain harder and Don was already halfway to the car so I ran to catch up.  The lump inside of my throat began to swell as I watched other parents smiling and waving. How could they be so happy when I felt like I was about to vomit.  I buckled my seatbelt and cried for most of the 5-hour ride home. I  was able to pull myself together as we reached our street but when I walked in the door and saw his Adidas slides in the middle of the floor I fell apart.  The very thing that drove me crazy is now causing nostalgia of a child who has been gone for 5 hours and 15 minutes.   
It was 93 degrees outside and I headed to my closet and located the largest, fuzziest cardigan I could find and stuffed the pocked with tissues and made my way to my oldest son's room to help him pack because as luck would have it, we were moving him into college the next morning.  I asked if he wanted to have dinner with us and he said he wanted to go out with a friend. As I began a monologue about how this was going to be our last supper with his two younger brothers he was gone.   I glanced around his room and on his bed, surrounded by dirty clothes, bowls and cups was his empty suitcase waiting to be filled.  Usually, I would have been annoyed but at this moment I was thankful for the tissues I had just stuffed in my pocket. 
Why couldn't I stop crying... if I'm being honest, I should rephrase that, why I can't stop crying.  I woke up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and started crying. So I woke Don up to tell him I was crying, he asked why, and when I was finally able to get the words out he had already fallen back to sleep.  I fell asleep on the couch while telling our dog how sad I was.  I woke up early and went for a long walk and cried even more. 
I knew this was going to be hard but I'm surprised by how utterly crushed I feel.  As I walked I passed a neighbor walking her dog and she asked how I was doing. I made a joke that the humidity this early was making me cry. Again, deflecting from the fact that I was crying uncontrollably while walking down the street with a cardigan around my waist filled with used tissues.   I walked aimlessly through the Notre Dame Cemetery and found myself sitting on a bench facing a sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows. The sculpture had seven swords piercing her heart.
If anyone can empathize with being a boy mom, it is Mary. How ridiculous it was that I was comparing the sorrows she endured with raising her son (of God) with the pain I was feeling with raising my son (of Don) and I was reminded again of my tendency to be dramatic.  But on a much grander scale,  it is not about me. 
It wasn't the boy's absence that was making me so anxious, it was the fear of the unknown. What if I'm pushing them out of the nest before they can fly? "What if" thoughts are my nemesis. 
I was so distraught and that I had to surrender something that I hold so close to me, control.  
Or at least the illusion of it. Up until this point, I have known their daily schedules, what they were eating, who they were with (most of the time), how they were feeling, what series they were binge-watching, or if they needed to do their laundry.  I recognize that all of this information is not necessary for caring for them, but somehow knowing all these things made me feel like I had a purpose. It made me feel like I was somehow looking out for them and keeping them safe. 
But, it's not about me. 
I decided to leave all my fear baggage there.  I'm not the one moving so the best thing I could do is not force my sons to carry my baggage with them, they have enough to carry right now.

I returned home and prepared to release another bird from the nest. I wish I could say that it went better than the day before.   It was similar, I clung to my oldest son as the rain started to fall.   I was beginning to wonder if the rain wasn't a divine Vaudeville hook to get me off the stage.  I held my tears long enough to get into the car, buckle my seatbelt and again cry the entire way home. 
Both boys were anxious to jump the nest and explore on their own.  From what I can see from my non-bird's-eye perspective, they are more than capable of flying on their own. 
The nest feels a little empty but my heart still feels pretty full.  

Parker and Finegan are apart from me, but still very much a part of me. And that won't change. We have raised them up to this moment for this moment, so it doesn't make sense to make this about me. 
It is very much about them, it always has been.