There’s Nothing Left to Say….

Wow – It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was letting go of B for the first time.  When I say “letting go”, I’m referring to the separation that takes place when your child begins their college journey.  I soon discovered that the “letting go” isn’t just a one time deal.  It happens over and over again – each time you reunite with your child, and then separate again.  I can’t say the “letting go” gets any less painful, but with time, I’ve learned to accept it.

This was last year’s post as I was about to “let go” for the first time.  Hoping it might bring some sense of  peace to those moms and dads “letting go” of their college freshman for the first time….

Given that writing is my way of analyzing, processing and understanding life, it’s kind of a no-brainer that I would have the notion to write a letter to Ben before he heads off to college.  When I first sat down to attempt this overwhelming task back in June, I realized there was no way I could say everything that needed to be said in a typical letter.  Instead, what was created, was more like a journal – sharing my thoughts, experiences, worries and wonders as this summer unfolded.

The following is an excerpt from a recent entry:

As I sit here less than 2 weeks from taking you to Colorado, I really struggle with what to say.  What’s left to say?  What could I possibly say NOW, that would make a difference.  The mommy side of me wants to run through a checklist of life lessons, things to remember to do or say in certain situations.  But I chuckle even as I write that.

There’s NOTHING left to say!  Much like it’s pointless to study for the SAT test the night before you take it.  You are either ready for it or you aren’t.

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YOU ARE READY!  You have been ready for this for quite some time now.  I know you are ready, in my head and in my heart.  I know you will grab onto the opportunities that lie ahead of you – and take full advantage of them.  I know you will make countless great choices, and probably a few bad ones – because that’s life and that’s how we learn and grow!

 So while there’s nothing left to say to prepare you for this major life change, there ARE a few things you’ve heard before, that are worth repeating!

  • I am proud of you!  It’s easy to be proud of your academic and athletic accomplishments.  But I’m way more proud of your character, your attitude, and your choices…..I am beyond proud of the man you are becoming!
  • I am grateful I get to be your mom!   There are hundreds of reasons why I’m grateful to be your mom.  But at the core of it all – you have allowed me to parent you, to practice on you and make mistakes, to guide and direct you, to catch you when you fall down and to gently nudge you off the ledge when you were too timid to take the leap of faith.  You have laughed with me, cried with me, sat in silence with me.  You have taught me as much about life as I hope I have taught you.  You have loved me, with the adoration of a child and now with the compassion and respect of a growing young man.
  • I believe in you!   You can (and will) do whatever you set your mind to.  You have already demonstrated you have the desire and discipline to succeed in life.   You have set and accomplished one goal after another.  You don’t quit when things get hard.  You have a clear understanding of right and wrong.  In the midst of that laser focus, you are kind, compassionate, considerate and respectful of other people.  Who you are, makes it easy to believe in you!
  • I love you!   I love you, I love you,  I love you!!!!!!!!!!  This is one thing you should never, ever question!  I hope through your first 18 years you have embedded in your heart and soul the truth that you are both lovable and worthy of being loved.

Now go fly Ben!

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How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

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9 months have come and gone – and it’s time to move my B out of his freshman dorm. I wish you could see me now, typing and shaking my head in total disbelief! I just don’t know where the time went?

If you followed my journey through his senior year in high school, you know I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. Honestly – I wrote so much I felt like I wasn’t just wearing my heart on my sleeve – but vomiting my every thought and feeling out into the world.  I may have gone to the other extreme this year, by writing very little about B’s freshman year.  But here we are, 9 months later – and I’m happy to announce that I SURVIVED!

If you read no further – I can leave you with the fact that this life changing transition IS survivable.  It’s not an overnight thing.  It’s a long, slow transition.  And while I can’t say I’ve gotten used to B not being home, I think I’ve learned to accept it.  Looking back, there were a few key things that helped me survive this past year…

How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

 

Establish communication boundaries & expectations

About a week before B left for school I asked him to have a conversation with me about communicating while he was away at school. Then I burst into tears. Not an uncommon reaction for me at that time! I wanted to hear his thoughts on how often he thought he’d like to be in communication with me, and I of course needed to share with him what my expectations were.

I was beyond grateful when he volunteered the idea of talking on the phone once a week, since that completely matched my desire. When it came to texting, he only asked that I not blow him up (aka – text constantly, repeatedly and non stop). That was probably a smart request on his part, since I could have easily worn the skin on my thumb pads from over texting those first few days (weeks and months!).

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I told B that texting him would be a way for me to reach out when I was thinking of him (aka – missing him desperately!), and that it would actually help me move on in the moment, versus dwelling in my sadness.   So we came to the agreement that if my text contained a question, I would expect a response. But if I was just touching base, sharing a thought or letting him know I was thinking of him, he wasn’t required to reply (although he usually did anyway – because he’s just that kind of guy!).

Every family is different. Our plan may not fit you and your family. But I guarantee that having the conversation ahead of time, setting rules, boundaries and expectations that work for your relationship, will ease so much of the transition.

Be patient and listen

The first few weeks (and months) of B’s freshman year I felt like an addict in need of my drug.  Our planned talk day was Monday.  So on Saturdays, I was counting the hours until we spoke again. By the time I heard his deep voice say “Hi Mom”, my need for feeling connected had turned into this unbearable sense of urgency.  I would bombard him with questions, but never really give him enough time to answer fully, before I threw the next question at him.  My excitement (and need) for information caused me to break all the relationship rules I had previously lived by.

The conversations felt awkward at times. Probably because we needed to transition from a face to face relationship to a long distance phone relationship.  Without the visual cues we’ve come to rely on, we have to relearn how to have a conversation by phone.  Moments of silence go unnoticed when you are face to face. But on the phone, those quiet gaps are so loud!

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I’ve learned to be quiet and patient through those gaps. In fact – I’ve discovered that the magic happens on the other side of that silence.  As I stopped talking (duct tape helps), I found that B began to open up and share more, which in turn resulted in the ebb and flow of a real conversation versus the question and answer sessions of those first few calls.

With patience, comes the ability to really listen. When I say “listen”, I don’t mean to use your ears to hear their voice, nor do I mean to simply not talk.  What I mean is, LISTEN to the depth of what they are really saying, the emotions they are feeling and the meaning behind their words.

I didn’t just survive B’s freshman year this way – I think the two of us thrived in our communication skills and our relationship as a whole.

Learn how to parent – an adult child

There was a 48 hour time frame in August between when we arrived in Boulder as a family and when we departed as a 3-some, leaving B to his new life. It was during this time that I first began to experience this phenomena of needing to relearn how to parent…an adult child.  My mothering instincts wanted to take over; to plan, schedule, organize and control all the details of this physical transition. But I pulled back, not wanting to embarrass him.

However, each time I’ve been with B this year, I find myself parenting him like he was a child. I reminded him daily to take his antibiotic when he had strep throat over the holidays. I reviewed his packing list for our ski trip, making sure he had all the necessities. I even found myself sharing details of his shell fish allergy with a waitress, while he sat right next to me. When she left the table, he actually turned to me and said  (with a smile on his face)“I can order for myself Mom”.

Uugghh – stab me in the heart!

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Parenting an adult child is an art, and I feel like I’m coloring outside the lines with chunky crayons. We will always be our children’s parents. But the job of parenting transitions over time. We don’t communicate with a 2 year old the same way we do with a 9 year old.   An 11 year old needs different boundaries and conversations than a 16 year old. While our adult-child grows and develops, so must we, in our parenting. I know I’m right in the middle of this long transition.  I don’t think I will ever stop parenting – but perhaps I need to learn to stop mothering, at least unsolicited mothering.

You might have a fear – but it’s not reality

Fear can be paralyzing!  The more we think about the thing that scares us, the bigger the fear grows and the more power it has.  When B was a toddler, I was afraid he might choke on small toys, so I baby proofed the house. When he was 8, I was afraid he might get hurt riding his bike, so I made him wear a helmet and limited where he could ride. When he was 13, I was afraid he might get mixed up in the wrong crowd and make bad choices, so as his circle of friends grew, I made a point to meet each of them, as well as their parents. When he was 16, I was afraid of all that could go wrong with him being a new driver on the road.  So I set non-negotiable driving rules regarding texting, speeding, curfew and more.

The reality is that I can no longer control the situation in an effort to both protect him and ease my fears. There have been times during these past 9 months when the fear has risen like spit-up in my throat.  I hope and pray that I have done everything possible to raise him to make the right choices in his life. But I was a 19 year old college student once…that did a lot of things that would scare many parents.

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I survived my moments of fear this past year by acknowledging that I HAD my fear, but that it wasn’t a reality – and as simple as it sounds, just accepting that I had absolutely no control in the matter.  That instantly took me to a place of peace.  The most challenging part has been trying not to act on or make decisions from a place of fear.

So here I sit, 9 months later…

His dorm room has been packed and put into storage.  His freshman year has come to a close.  I might have just survived it – but thankfully B thrived in it!  Now, I am just hours from boarding a plane home…without him!

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While I fly back to Virginia, he will be heading to Argentina for 3 weeks of education, adventure and fun!  The fear is choking me.  My head knows how freaking amazing this opportunity is, but the mama bear in me (my heart) wants him to stay here, safe on U.S. soil.  I had to make the choice to not allow my fears to impede him living his most awesome life.

I survived his freshman year of college – I can survive 3 weeks of travel abroad.  It may not be a pretty 3 weeks – but I’m going to take all that I learned this year and put it into practice.

with Gratitude, Joy & Love

The Sounds of Love Return

In exactly ONE WEEK I will have my B back under our roof for the first time since starting college.  It’s only been 90 days, but it feels like a lifetime.  I’ve had the joy of visiting him during Parent’s Weekend, the gift of talking to him every Monday and the freedom to text with him whenever my hearts desire (although I haven’t abused that privilege)!  But none of that replaces the feeling of having your cub back in the cave.  I’m SO looking forward to the simple things, the ordinary things, the everyday things that I’ve missed these past 3 months.

As I was living through his senior year in high school, anticipating what it would be like to not have him in my day to day life,  I wrote this post about noticing and loving all the noises he makes, The Sounds of Love as I called them.  In exactly ONE WEEK – those sounds of love return!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, as you spend quality time with the people in your life – pause to notice the simple, ordinary things that make your family and friends distinctly who they are.

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After our first yellow lab Jake passed away, the loss was undeniable.  I knew I’d miss the feel of his warm tongue licking my feet, his soft fur as I ran my hands the length of his back, and the weight of his body propped against me as we cuddled.  What I was not prepared for though, was missing his sounds.  The intense panting after a good hard play.  His nails as they clicked across the wood floor.  The non stop lapping of water to complete his meal.  The thud of his 85 lb body finally collapsing onto the floor after walking in circles searching for the perfect spot to rest.  The clinking of metal as he licked the food crusted silverware propped in the dishwasher.

 

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Those noises were distinctly his.  After his passing, the house was quiet and I desperately missed his noises.  They were the sounds of love.

School was closed on Monday in honor of Veteran’s day.  Although Ben, my senior, typically studies in his room, I casually asked him if he wanted to join me in the kitchen to do homework while I wrote.  Without hesitation, he said “Sure!”, headed upstairs to grab his books and promptly joined me at the kitchen table.

So there I sat, attempting to write, but instead I was distracted by my 17 year old man-child as I like to call him, sitting just ten feet away from me.  There wasn’t anything in particular he was doing to distract me.  Simply by being there with me, even though he could have chosen any number of other places to spend his morning, was distracting in and of itself.  The harsh reality hit me that this time next year, this scenario would not be an option.

My fingers were propped on the key board, my brain willing them to start writing.  But all I could do was breathe and be present, drinking in every ounce of that moment in an attempt to hold onto it, to stop time.

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Suddenly the sound of gum cracking and bubble popping startled me from my Hallmark moment.  I chuckled inside thinking about how his brain was able to command him to solve calculus problems and manipulate large quantities of bubblegum all at the same time.  Like a flash from the past, it hit me that his gum chewing is just one of countless sounds that are distinctly his, and I’m instantly transported back to the days following the passing of our yellow lab Jake.

This time I will be better prepared, making sure to notice and appreciate all of Ben’s sounds before he goes off to college, and they become a distant memory.

When I think of Ben, what I hear is….

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Beard scratching – It doesn’t take but a day or two for Ben to transform from my man-child to my mountain man-child, complete with a scruffy beard.  Given that it’s day eleven of “No-Shave November”, his cheeks are a jungle, and apparently it’s quite itchy, because I can hear him feverishly scratching his face from across the table.

Insanely rapid texting – Ben is by far the fastest texter I’ve ever met.  It’s visually compelling to witness the speed of his fingers moving across the tiny keyboard, but even more startling to hear the pace at which he can knock out a 2-thumbed conversation.

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Heard of Elephants – Ben has an unmistakable sound to his walk, which is only enhanced when he travels up or down our staircase.  Sometimes it’s gazelle like as he prances up or down the stairs.  This morning, however, it was more like a heard of elephants stampeding as he took them by two’s.

Music, music everywhere – Wherever Ben is, there is music.  His playlist constantly blasts through his iPhone, MacBook or car stereo.  The only time I find him music-less is when he is reading or sleeping.  Yes, he’s even rocking out to tunes while doing homework.

Bad Karaoke – If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Ben sing, be thankful.  The poor guy was born tone deaf and can’t carry a note to save his life.  As much as it hurts my ears at times, I embrace his bad karaoke, because he’s never let his inability to sing on key stop him from belting out his favorite songs with passion.

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Toe tapping, hand rapping, pencil slapping – This should come as no surprise, given Ben’s propensity towards music.  When he’s not singing, he’s rhythmically keeping beat to his music.  They say music and math go well together, which is probably why he’s able to drum to Coldplay while solving calculus problems (and scratching his beard, chewing gum and texting!)

Soothing deep voice – I wouldn’t call it a radio voice, but he has such a deep, soothing tone when he speaks.  My two favorite things to hear him say are “Hey Mom” and “I love you”, because they make me feel special.  How lucky am I that I get to hear those words every day?

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Those are just a few of the sounds that are recognizably Ben.  For me, they are the sounds of love…..

with Joy, Gratitude & Love

My New Normal

I don’t know what I thought life after taking Ben to college would be like…

I don’t know that I had a plan for how to deal with my roller coaster of emotions…

I don’t know that I was prepared to actually live through this transition, this time of uncertainty, this new normal…

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The 24 hours leading up to moving him into his dorm were a whirlwind.  I was so busy I didn’t have time to feel.  Looking back, I think I was numb or that I had somehow compartmentalized and shut down my personal emotions, and instead focused on everything and anything that Ben needed.

I was holding onto my last few opportunities of this chapter to really play the role of Mom – the planner, organizer, scheduler – the one that could make it happen, fix it, get it done.  But I also found myself doing so with reservation, as though I had one arm tied behind my back.  I was that Mom figure, with permission and by request….instead of the one taking charge.

It was all good, until the moment when I had to actually say Good-bye….

That was like having my heart ripped out of my chest.  I kept it together, in the sense that I didn’t crumble to the floor in the fetal position.  But I cried.  In that very moment, all I wanted was to show Ben my joy, confidence, pride and belief in him.  But instead I cried.  As the tears rolled down my cheeks, he wrapped his arms around me and loved me anyway.

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Boarding the plane less than 24 hours later was even harder.  On the outside, I looked normal, except for the tears spilling over my eyelids and dripping down my face.  But on the inside, I was screaming, having my own personal tantrum.  All I wanted to do was drop my bags and literally run, as fast as I could, out of that airport.  Just run….

Boarding the plane was the final reality check that I was in fact leaving my baby all by himself, thousands of miles away from home, from the life he knew…..from the life I knew!  Boarding the plane snapped me out of any last bit of denial I had been hanging onto.

The first week back home was fuzzy at best.  I was in survival mode, living on auto-pilot.  But the days are getting easier.  Even as I write this (then delete it, then type it again) I wonder what easier means.

What I should really say is that I’m crying less often.  But honestly – that worries me.  I’m afraid of the day that I don’t cry.  I’m afraid of what that will mean.  I’m afraid it will signify that I’ve gotten used to Ben being away.

I’m not so sure I want to get used to that!

Apparently, this is my new normal…and yet it doesn’t feel remotely close to normal.  It feels empty, awkward, unfamiliar, strange, and lonely.  If feeling like part of my heart has been ripped out of my chest is my new normal – I want nothing to do with it.

There are moments where I feel like an addict going through withdrawal and all I need is a “Ben fix” and I’ll be fine, for the time being….

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It’s been four weeks to the day since I last hugged my B.  Four weeks since I kissed his cheek, looked into his dark brown eyes, touched his muscular arm.  Four weeks since I’ve seen the joy in his face as he laughs.  Four weeks since we’ve enjoyed a meal together.  Four weeks of living this new normal.

In just a few short hours the hole in my heart will be healed, temporarily, as I spend the next 3 days sharing his college experience with him, getting glimpses of his new life.

I’m consumed with JOY – but it’s a guarded joy.  The kind of joy that you know is short lived, only to be followed by pain.

When Ben’s best friend left for the Air Force Academy, just 10 days after graduation, I watched him experience a pain and sadness I had never seen from him before.  Knowing that I couldn’t fix or change it, I offered him the only words that came to me – I offered him the truth.

I told him that feeling the depth of sadness he was experiencing, like his heart was breaking, was directly proportionate to how much he LOVED.  In this case it was a love of a friendship built over 8 years, a brotherly love.

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I will embrace the next 72 hours with all the joy and gratitude that my heart can hold – knowing that saying Good-bye, and boarding the plane on Sunday, will be no easier this time around.

I pray that in the midst of the pain and sadness I will feel as I walk this path again, I will remember it is proportionate to how much I LOVE!

with Gratitude, Joy & Love