On Tuesday I put my oldest daughter on a plane bound for Salt Lake City. She will spend two weeks in Provo and then head off to France for 18 months. For those of you unfamiliar with the protocol of the Mormon mission, here’s the nitty gritty: They can call home twice a year, on Mother’s Day and Christmas. Needless to say, there is no texting. They can e-mail (or write letters) once a week on their Preparation Day (commonly referred to as P-Day). There is no visiting allowed. So, when I say I sent my baby off. I mean I SENT HER OFF. TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY. WITH VERY LIMITED CONTACT. I’m alternately JUST FINE and weepy, with little cognitive understanding of why I can’t just pick one emotion and stick with it. Moody, I think they call it.
The mission launching is especially dicey given the communication restrictions. But dropping her off for college was difficult as well. Let’s face it. We will all, in some way, launch our children off into the wide world. Without us. I’ve written a number of essays where I’ve bemoaned the lack of shared information on launching one’s children. Heck, that’s a big reason I wanted to create this blog. Everyone talks about their childbirth stories, and toddler antics, and their children’s athletic or academic prowess. But about the leaving? Not so much. I have found some commiseration in the women I speak to day-to-day. I had a number of sweet moms approach me this week either in person or via text. They spoke softly about how hard it is. They assured me the separation would become less painful. They looked at me very sympathetically.
And I appreciated those words so very much. Even an acknowledgment is helpful; it eases the loneliness. But what I’d really like is a guide. Some steps. How to get from point A (heartbroken) to point B (okay with my semi-empty nest). Also, am I crazy? Am I making too big a deal of this? Because I feel both. And also? I WANT MY BABY BACK.
Here’s my offering on 'letting go' – what I’ve felt and observed thus far. It’s sketchy because it’s new and raw. I'd LOVE for other moms to chime in. Teach me in the ways of this new (and sometimes horrible) undertaking.
- The anticipation is rough. I’d like to say the anticipation is worse than the actual separation, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. I think we did too much “This is your last . . . swim party, Chipotle burrito, tex mex food, real deodorant.” It was emotionally exhausting for her and us. I think towards the end she was like, “Let’s just get this ball moving already!”
- I was really unsure how to balance her feelings about leaving (excited, scared, etc.) with my own feelings. I wanted to buoy her up and certainly didn’t want to burden her, but I also wanted her to know how much she would be missed – how much we love her. Here’s me: “France is going to be so great! You will be awesome! This is the experience of a lifetime! I might shrivel up and die inside!” Just kidding on the last one, but figuring out how to best support her emotionally was tricky.
- The preparation part, while daunting, was fun. She won’t have much time for shopping while in France, so we wanted to make sure she had pretty much everything she needed clothing-wise for 18 months. I’m not a big fan of shopping, but working on mission prep together gave us time to talk and envision what her future in France might look like. It made me feel better anyway. [Here’s a packing note: Jordan has a pretty good case of chronic eczema. So, fearing she wouldn’t be able to get her lotion in France, we bought a number of large bottles to tide her over for about six months. When we finally packed her bags and weighed them, we realized she was over the weight limit by 20 pounds!! We pulled out some of the lotion, but still had to pay an arm and a leg for excess baggage.]
- Hard work is a great distraction. On Sunday afternoon I found myself feeling particularly low about the impending departure. While the rest of the family napped, I set about straightening up the downstairs. At first I was just going to unload the dishwasher. But once the music was on (the Weepies Pandora station) and I was working, I felt better. As I slowly ordered my physical home, I found that I was also working things out in my head. Yesterday, while I was waiting for her plane to make it to Salt Lake, I weeded the back flowerbeds. On the up side, we might have a very clean house for the next 18 months.
Mostly, right now, I’m just stunned. I don’t know how this is supposed to feel, how I’m supposed to respond to the leaving. There's not much of a blueprint to follow other than just keep on keeping on. A friend sent me a quote by Erma Bombeck that is a beautiful summation -- beautiful, heartbreaking and true:
I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless . . . they crash . . . they hit the rooftop . . . you patch and comfort, adjust and teach.
You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly. Finally, they are airborne: they need more string and you keep letting it out. But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is sadness that goes with joy. The kite becomes more distant, and you know that it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone.
Only then do you know that you did your job.