I Was Only Waiting for This Moment to Arise

On the morning before we left  for Chicago, my girl slid into my bed just as she did as a toddler, a preteen, a distressed young adult. I smelled that skin and hair and felt her soft fingers curl around mine. I was not prepared for this gift.

And the the truth is, I am not prepared for waking up on this day to take the dog out for her morning stroll. I see the car my kid has driven for the last two years and my first thought is, “I wonder what time she got home?” until I slowly adjust my thinking. We left her in Chicago and I won’t know much about that anymore.

As much as I’d like to interweave my story with hers, I cannot. It’s not that they aren’t related, but at some point the narratives have to split. 

I think that is the real trick to parenting. So much of my own experience gets mixed up inside the individuals I am trying to raise and it just doesn’t work. These little people have to be themselves. It’s what parents want- that discovery of who they are and then the becoming and flourishing. 

At least that is the hope.  

But silly and wonky person that I have turned out to be, it has taken me awhile to figure this out. It's cruel joke that just when I am finally getting the hang of it, it is time to let go.

I know I have been hurtling toward this moment the whole time, but still the drop-off in the college dorm is shocking.

I keep thinking of these lyrics. I keep singing them to myself except I am changing the “You “ to  “I”.

I was only waiting for this moment to arise.

There was a time I never thought I would be a parent and then I was. It seems I have floated from one shock wave to another.

And so I am allowing my heart to grieve what is no longer. I am letting it be ok to examine the patchwork of my parenting life with my girl and let it fill me with joy and sadness and regret and everything in between.

I am fighting to stay inside my broken heart a bit. Not to dwell exactly, but to give it time to feel what it must so I can take my next step forward.

I have watched so many do exactly what I am doing now. I have listened and read all the touching tributes and essays on how to prepare.

But the truth is, none of it really has prepared me.

And so the gift I am giving myslef is to be ok with what is in my heart right now.

Here is this song, for me and anyone else who needs or wants it. It is for this moment, one full of hope and sadness and joy and letting go.

The Beatles

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of a dark black night
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of a dark black night
Blackbird singing

Baby Steps

In baby steps she is leaving me.

Oh, I know she won’t ever leave. My heart is a sealed vault full of infinite love and space for my child.

But she is leaving.

In an effort to finally establish order in her room across the hall from us it became easier to set up shop temporarily in the spare bedroom in the basement. I have a feeling she will not return to her old room. 

The closet is mostly bare. So many empty hangers, the clothes sifted through, scrutinized by having hard talks with self about the current realities and styles. I chose this? What was I thinking? It doesn’t fit. Will it ever fit ever again? 

Sorting of the books seems like a potential heartbreaker. Keep them! I wanted to shout. But she was laser-focused and yet my mama’s heart was relieved to note she had a heart too. The Harry Potter collection intact and standing sentinel on her shelf. Classics, favorite books from different phases of life, reminders of her self and all her iterations of self. I am imposing that on her. I am giving her experience words, something I cannot do but I am anyway. I just know I did the same. I still do. Sometimes you will lose yourself and it’s good to have a path home. This is what I want to say but do not. I find mine in books. I can look at each spine and remember who I was or who I am now and link the two by remembering what came first and what lead to the next thing. It’s why I always have a copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It’s about finding voice. I found this book when I was 12. I still have it as a reminder, a golden path home. I want to tell her all of this, but I do not. It’s her time now, a time for self-discovery.

On the top shelf of her closet stand 30 Nutcrackers, various styles, all bright if not a little creepy. Am I the only one who finds Nutcrackers a bit creepy? The years are scratched on the bottom in black or silver Sharpie. Each year, a different character, a different cast, a different role. Out loud she says, “I don’t know how I feel about these.”

Of course. Isn’t that life? Not sure of how you feel? It gets twisted. I should be sentimental, but I am not. But maybe I am not quite ready to part with them? It’s ok. No decisions have to be made. I mean, you are leaving, but not for good. Here is where I have to tread lightly. She is an all-or-nothing sort of girl. This is good for making high academic achievements, good for diving far into a hobby, good for making a clean break. As a mom, I have always been trying to steer her a little closer to the middle. “You aren’t moving out forever August 21st. You will need a home base. These can stay. We can decide how it feels at Christmas when you are no longer dancing. Feelings shift and change. It’s ok.”

She relaxes as the weight is lifted...no decisions have to be made today. And so they remain lined up, gathering dust, uncertain of their roles in the next act.

The spare bedroom was a clean slate. She set her room up neatly, as a way of imagining how she’d like to live with a fresh new start. As she purged her old room, a new way was taking shape. Amidst of all the discoveries (why do I have so many empty bags and boxes?), a new idea of self was forming.

My mother’s voice wanted to exclaim, “Your old room COULD have been like this new room the whole time!”

But duh. I know how hard it is to see the forest for the trees. Sometimes you just have to leave to see what can be. It takes time to understand what was and what could have been and it’s all ok. She doesn’t need my sadness masked as irritation. She doesn’t need my throbbing and aching heart. 

A few nights ago, she experienced something really difficult. Bob woke me to share that she needed me.

I went downstairs and she was so sad and disappointed in herself. I was steady and strong. I was equal parts amazed at myself and not surprised at all. Because every mother is Joan of Arc, born to lead their child straight into the heart of themselves. That is, if you are willing to listen more and talk less. If you are willing to watch and learn with them and from them.

I have been up for it all.

I wrapped my arms around her. I let her cry. I whispered all the stuff we’ve been learning together through the years. I remained unphased by her humanity and grateful she let me be with her in her pain.

Later she thanked me. Later she said, “I love you mom.”

And so that is what remains for me. I am in her heart too. I am there to remind her of herself when she needs me to.

She’s downstairs now. She is imagining her new life, a new version of herself. The dust bunnies and cobwebs and piles of the future still sit waiting for what will be. What remains and what to take are still very much in question.

I am not ready and I am. I was born to do this.

Thank You.

I have been trying and trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this parenting milestone, my first kid making it to the HS graduation finish line. I've tried to come up with something that hasn't been said before and ha! It is impossible. 

And so I land on what comes most naturally to me and that is to say thank you.

In no particular order but my own stream of conscious I offer thanks to-

My parents. 
They taught me first and foremost to show up. Whether or not your kid actually graduates is beside the point. My oldest brother did not, but my parents kept showing up for him. I learned it does not matter if you understand your kid or not. The best thing to do is to show up. I cannot shout it from the rooftops enough. It doesn't matter who or what your kid does. It doesn't matter who you think they are or what they become. If they see you return to them, especially in difficult times, they will at least know, "Hey, they must love me. They keep showing up." That is exactly what I have done. I have loved hard (and sometimes failed hard) and showed up again, trying. In this case, I learned by example and that has been the gift of my lifetime.

My siblings and in-laws.
Having another family who has listened and watched and supported and loved my own kids and became another set of cheerleaders is icing on the cake. There really are never enough cheerleaders in a person's life. There has been love everywhere. It can feel embarrassing at times to have such riches. Some of our siblings are parents. Some are not. Each has offered their own way of being with my kids, and I just love knowing they have people outside of me who love them like I do. 

My female friends.
The ears, the hearts, and the hands of women near and far who hold all the pain as only other women can. Pain? Maybe some of you are wondering. Yes, pain. Being a mother isn't for the faint of heart and if you've not yet encountered the teen years, head on back to that Baby and Me class or over to the elementary school art show and soak up the innocence and joy of a life where the problems of the day just might be covered in a book with helpful strategies that provide clear and defined outcomes. The teen years will defy all you thought you knew. I'm not trying to sound ominous but every single parent I know who dares to look and ask the hard questions simply shrugs as if to say, "What? I had NO idea."  If you've not a network of support before the teen years, hustle on up and get yourself some. They will pull you through. They will stand sentinel with you on your darkest days and hold you and your child in light and keep you from teetering over the edge. If you do indeed teeter, they will pull you up. I am grateful to anyone who has had to sit on the other side of my urgent request, for every ear who has taken a lap around Lake Winona, for every reader who has carefully noted as I navigate my struggle on the page. And to any parent who has had the courage to admit to their own struggles with a simple 'me too' or  'I get it', you have no idea how freeing and relieving it can feel to know this experience isn't special. It's so easy to feel alone in parenting teens, but I was not. I am grateful beyond measure for being able to reach out when I could and to be held in silent support when I could not. 

My husband.
He is facing his own sadness about his baby girl leaving his nest. She is his mirror image in so many ways. There is nothing more a mother could hope for than to have a husband whom their daughter feels is the gold standard for how to be a good person, how to work hard,  how to play with abandon, and how to discuss and dig into ideas and share books and music and concerns and to be a helper without needing praise or accolades. Neither Bob or Lucy needs praise. They are so internally driven, and we all know I am the exact opposite. I marvel at these rare birds, and I also love them to pieces. And maybe she doesn't know quite yet that she has struck gold. She is, after all, an 18 year old girl. But I do. When I eavesdrop on their conversations, my heart is full to bursting because the gift of a girl who can laugh and share her heart with her dad is perhaps the best thing I could ever hope for. 

My son.
Ben has been such a caring brother. I am certain Lucy doesn't see it this way. She may not for a long time. My son has a heart so big and so sweet, but please don't tell him I said that. If you think my powers of observation are strong, I cannot wait until he decides he is a writer because this kid! He has taught me about acceptance and love and patience and the fine line between pushing and nagging and nuance with words and how one little shift in perspective can change the whole game. He has helped me become a better parent to both of them because his needs and desires are so different. I cannot be one and done. I am not done, but I will do differently for him because he has taught me so.

My girl.
It might sound weird to thank the kid you have raised, but it takes two and I believe I am a better person today than I was 18 years ago when she arrived on the scene. We are not the same. I am loud and I can embarrass her simply by changing the tone of my voice in the check out line. She is cool and self-possessed and I sometimes have to coax the words out of her. Use your words! I say. She communicates by digging in and by doing and by not giving up and by showing herself IcanIcanIcan. When teachers have failed her, she has taught herself. And she has taught me that I can. I can do something if I really want to. She has also taught me there is always room for improvement when it comes to listening. I will never forget shortly after the 2016 election, the radio was replaying a speech by President Trump. I snapped it off in a juvenile fashion. She calmly reached over, turned it back on and said, "Mom, you have to listen." She was right and I have returned to that moment in my head a thousand times. It has inspired me to think often about how I want my kids to see me when I feel petty and angry and just not right. It stinks, sometimes, having to be the adult. They don't mention THAT in parenting books! They don't mention how you have to show up looking like you have it together and that how you share how you see the world will indeed have an impact on the kids you are raising. What will leave this house is a direct reflection of what is in the house. And so, darn... I do have to listen to things I don't always like and I do have to think about the why and what and who and how of so many of my choices because my kids will notice and my kids will ask. She has taught me that my choices matter. There are so many things about our particular journey that are not mine to share at this point, but I am ending where I started, which is to say I showed up and my daughter let me. She let me stay in the room when it was hard. She offered herself when she was scared and she let me hug her when maybe she didn't want one. And so she has showed up for me too, each of us doing what we could. I like to hope we are both better for it.

No one thinks about the hormonal adolescent days or the 18th birthday when their kid arrives in the world. There are stars in your eyes and big dreams and hopes for everything that will be. But it gets wonky because what I have learned is I cannot dream for my child. I cannot have wants for them because they will have their own. I can pave a way, but I can't tell them which way. I am her cheerleader. I am the adult who sets boundaries and standards yet in the end, they will do what they will do. I am the loudest voice saying, "Yes, I believe in you and yes, I believe you can. What matters more is you believe in you and you believe you can." I can have all the ideas and tools and suggestions, but in the end I am simply support staff with an endless supply of love. I have given more than I ever thought I had and then some.

I cannot say what will be next for my sweet girl, but I do know what has been is way more than any dream I may have had when she was born. And for that I am grateful beyond these words.