Last week, my twins headed to college – one in Washington D.C. and one in Bloomington, Indiana. My friends are calling, e-mailing, stopping me in the grocery store. “Are you okay?” they ask, eyes wide with concern in the middle of the cereal aisle. I know what’s expected of me. I’m supposed to miss my kids. I’m supposed to grieve the loss of this stage in my life. Everywhere I look, people are writing and talking about this difficult transition. In The Washington Post, Michael Gerson went so far as to say this about sending his youngest child to college: “He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close.”
Seriously?? Sorry Michael, sorry friends, sorry kids, but I am just not there.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children like crazy. But letting go of them is not only easy for me, it’s delightful. I’ve got nothing but joy and hope for the future - both theirs and mine. Which makes me wonder… Is there something wrong with me? Where are my tears? Where is my wistful reminiscence? Where is my longing for more time with my kids?
I could blame my father. He often told me, “A parent’s job is to give their children roots and wings,” and, “Kids are only yours to borrow.” Was this advice born from his own sense of loss when my siblings and I grew up and flew from our nest? Perhaps. But his wisdom seeped into my bones, and I always knew the hands-on parenting phase of life was temporary. That knowledge didn’t keep me from being 100% invested in motherhood. It kept me sane, especially when I had three kids needing three different things at the exact same time.
I blame my husband, too. He’s the one who insisted we go out every Saturday night, even when we could barely afford a babysitter. We stayed connected, so now, as I look to the future with this guy I married 23 years ago, I’m not looking at a stranger. I’m not afraid that once the kids are gone our marriage will disappear, too. In fact, it’s the opposite. We are going to have a blast.
I might as well blame my parents and siblings while I'm at it, who’ve made me realize that when you grow up, you can have as close a relationship as you want with your original family. It's just not mandatory.
And friends, even the ones who are weeping into their tissues as they handle the college transition in a way that’s right for them, get their share of the blame, also. If not for them, I might have been the kind of mom who befriends her kids or her kids’ friends. But I haven’t needed or wanted that because my own friends make my life rich and full and funny and interesting.
You know, now that I think about it, I've got to give a little blame to my kids themselves. After all, they’re the ones who matured into young adults whom I trust enough to send off into the wild blue yonder. Not that I don’t expect some shenanigans in college. I just expect them to deal with it.
But enough pointing fingers. It’s only fair that I look inward and blame myself. First off, I’m the wacky person who got the word OPTMST on her license plate to remind me every day to choose optimism. So yeah, maybe I do look on the bright side of most situations. At the same time, I’ve sort of been obsessed with endings and loss and change my whole life. My mom often accused me of being morbid, but I was processing the fact that life always, no matter what, ends with death. Okay, that might be obvious, but really, when you fully embrace that idea, you are suddenly free to appreciate the beauty of life with all its ups and downs and changes. At least that’s what happened for me. Optimism and death - you wouldn't think those two things go together, but they do.
My daughter filled our home with stories, emotions, drama, and love. My son filled it with humor, wit, mystery, and a quiet sense of confidence. All they gave to me is here, inside me. Their leaving doesn’t change that, it just expands as they share themselves with new people and new places. Their adult lives are beginning, and I’m the lucky one who gets to watch from the sidelines. I will be their biggest fans. And I am just a phone call away if they need me.
I have one more child at home, a senior in high school. Maybe I’ll feel differently next year when he heads off to college, but I wouldn’t bet on it. This is what we hope for, isn’t it? To raise our children to leave us. To be well-adjusted adults. To discover their passions and work hard to make their dreams come true.
I can’t be the only mom who is jumping for joy as she witnesses her children leave the nest. The shame I feel at the grocery store when I don’t have the expected reaction is not actually shame. It’s more the uncomfortable feeling you get when living authentically makes you different from your friends. I think, maybe, there’s nothing wrong with me. Maybe I’m saying what lots of people are feeling but are afraid to admit. But I will shout it from the rafters, and I invite you to join me. Go on kids, create your lives. I will cheer you on while I continue to create mine.