Both of my daughters have struggled through long distance relationships with boyfriends. Our eldest daughter, Zoe, was away starting university in Vancouver in her lonely (with roommate but no big family) apartment and she and the guy she’d left behind pined for each other through long distance phone calls – until it just didn’t seem like the right mix. My youngest daughter, Lily, was later off on the opposite side of the country discovery Quebec and Montreal and devotion to studies in a little studio while working her way into, and out of, a relationship that started long distance – and ended that way. Both girls tell me long distance is hard. Their dad and I did it too, decades ago, so I know that’s true, but sometimes you get lucky.
It is fall, the trees are golden, the sun is warm and all my four kids live away now. I miss them the most Sunday afternoons when their dad and I consider a bike ride or a drive in the country with not much thought to Sunday dinner. I come from the tradition of Sunday dinner and if any of them are home I try to do it up right. I’m okay now – after their long and gradual departure from our too big, too quiet nest. And now we’re the ones engaged in long distance relationships. I have friends who are melancholy because their kids have just recently left home for places in the city. And I’ve been reading September blogs from women – strangers to me, who are pining for their recently departed kids. For both types of parents, who I know reminisce for a September of grumbling about buying kids new gym shoes or calculators, and the morning chaos of getting a family out the door, I’ve decided to re-post my first few ‘letting go’ blogs.
I set up my wordpress blog two years ago while I worked at writing a book about all the crazy ways my kids left home – four kids – four different pursuits – one stunned mom. I was still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humor in the second’s being held at the Canada/U.S border with all his belongings in a plastic garbage bag, at the same time confused about whether it would be a positive or negative for our third child to enter an ashram, when our youngest, a sensitive homebody, left to spend five months in Italy. It is about how during all that our family of six, learned to disconnect, discovered independence, (sometimes scaring the crape out of both parents) and how we all found new ways of being close. Text Me, Love Mom – Sending Your Kids Into The Wide, Wide World – the book is finished. To go with this ‘kids leaving home’ season I’ve decided to look back at the days when Zoë, our eldest of four was first living away from us – over the mountains, beside the ocean – far from our home, and I was afraid she would fall in with west coast nudist, vegans, (which she did) and never look back….
IS THERE A PATCH FOR THAT?
So we had our babies young by today’s standards. While mini-SUV’s stuffed with our peers offspring were trucking between Sunday music recitals and vogue over-the-top children’s birthday parties – my husband, Will, and I had already survived hip hop concerts in our basement and read the riot act at a host of eighteenth birthdays for young-adults-gone-wild. Of course, I didn’t feel that young. While my same-age friends were doing espressos to make it through the day, after getting up in the night with the little one’s bad dreams and winter colds, I needed a daily fix of latte and chocolate cake because one of my kids hadn’t returned a phone call in two days and another one would be calling incessantly because the road trip he was on had gotten a little sketchy.
Life is a journey and all that. But during what part of the journey was it easiest to deal with colic and a latent thumb sucker, and when have we learned all the skills necessary to convince a sixteen-year-old that they have to take pure math and that all the kids who say they’ve had sex really haven’t? I was only forty-two when my oldest daughter left our chaotic home in Calgary. I can see now that I was guilty of stalking Zoë with emails and phone calls, though it’s hard to believe I had time for stalking while still immersed in patrolling two teenage boys’ covert activities, and being a choir-mom for my youngest.
I had all these cooing babies that became boisterous teens – to fill our home and hearts and consume my time, patience and energy. For years and years, I had never thought much about them moving out and how my heart would deal with that. It was what was supposed to happen – the launch from the nest.
Zoë found her way to leave home with her copies of Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragon Quest gone from the shelves, her colourful collection of shoes gathered up from the closets, and the vanilla scented products stripped from the bathroom. Were my parents just as stunned and confused to have a child slipping out of their grasp and away from their influence? The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented. Could this explain why I suffered from the jitters when one by one, all too quickly, my children dispersed and I desperately wished I could visit my local pharmacists and buy a patch to help ease me off them. What, I wondered, would be released for not NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), but rather CAHRT (children at home replacement therapy)? A chemical that could create the sound of their cell phones chirping incessantly, or of the front door creaking and them downloading a movie at two a.m., or produce the irritation caused by the sight of their chaotic rooms, or imitate the sensation of pleasure when one of them slowed down long enough to wrap their arms around me in a hug?
An astute observer would recognize that, though I was attempting to pull myself together, I was unable to concentrate on a task and was lumbering back and forth from one activity to the next. Bewildered, I felt like a mother bear I had seen in a film whose cub had been taken away too early. She had rolled her head from side to side, and clumped through the forest in a distressed fashion. Learning to deal with my first strayed cub my heart pounded, my sleep was uneven and I couldn’t concentrate to complete a task.
My kids say I could start my own lending library with my vast collection of parenting tomes, yet there was a void of information to guide me through these turbulent times, starting with the spring day that I scrunched up the envelope so I could see through its window that my daughter had been accepted at a university across an entire mountain range from home, until I realized I had worked myself out of a position with which I was damn comfortable.
They left home in the order they were born. Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving out and Lily, the baby, phoning from a crowded European city to tell me how hard it was to find a place to cry out loud, the way she preferred to cry. Back up you kids, I thought. I want to run through that all again.