Letting Go

Well, bloggers, it’s not quite six in the morning here, far too early to be posting, far too early for me usually to be thinking, but we had what you might call a rude awakening at four. You may recall my son was going away with his school to Spain? Alas, we thought he was leaving at four in the morning tomorrow, but it turned out to be today. Funnily enough I was already awake when the phone rang downstairs. I’d been dreaming that I was trying to date three men across the space of the same evening and they were all getting fed up with me as I ran backwards and forwards between them, scattering excuses. The relief of waking up was short-lived, however, when I heard the phone and wondered who on earth it could be. I didn’t get downstairs in time to answer it, but no message was left, and so I stood there, dawdling in the half-light, wondering what to do when my husband appeared and started cursing. He’d figured it out. Anyway, half an hour later my son was up and packed and the two of them set off to catch the school coach at the airport.

It’s funny what goes through your mind. I kept thinking, this is a whole day too early, I was going to have another whole day with him before he left. It wasn’t the fact of being materially unprepared that bothered me (in fact I had started to get his things ready the previous evening, by chance); it was the lack of emotional preparation, although of course I wonder whether I would ever have reached a state I could have called readiness. I’ve always been fond of Joanna Trollope’s line: Men love women, women love children, children love hamsters. I thought I was a good, restrained mother, giving my son a cheery wave goodbye as he left the house, ignoring me but taking special care to greet both the cats who had assembled with some surprise in the garden, clueless as to what was going on, but obviously feeling pretty optimistic about the prospect of an early breakfast. Once the boys had gone I wondered whether it was possible for a middle-aged Englishwoman to keen at her kitchen cupboards as if they were a wailing wall. I tried to make a few deals with any freelance deities up and about at that hour to bring my son home safely, regardless of any personal cost to me. And then I came and turned the computer on and wandered around the blogworld, which is of course what Demeter would sensibly have done, had the internet existed in Ancient Greece, seeing whether any of my blogging friends were having conversations with me. A special thank you to all of you who (by chance) were; I appreciated the comfort of your voices while you were sleeping.

Oh, separation. It has to be done. But it seems so strange that one gives birth to a baby who, for the next seven years is so deeply entangled with you, so meshed into your being, so needy, so demanding, that many a day you long for just ten minutes of complete peace, only for the tide to turn at some imperceptible point. Gradually the realisation dawns that you are the needy one, the one hanging around for a few crumbs of attention, for the pleasure of being able to serve or provide. It’s like that horrible moment in an adult relationship when it comes to your attention that the person who used to love you is now still fond, but distant, engaged elsewhere, busy with other things. And as far as children are concerned, it is both natural and essential; oddly enough it’s not personal in that way. He can’t grow up to be himself if I’m still hanging around keeping him tied to me, importuning his freedom to want other things. And yes, it’s only a week, so I’m making a lot of fuss about nothing, right? it’s not like he’s moved out all of a sudden. So I’ll practice letting go, but I’ll miss him terribly, and it will be our secret.

24 thoughts on “Letting Go

  1. Goodness me this one does hit home with me. I have let go of two and a half children, and I know it can be done, but the half, who is now on a gap year in India, has given me at least as much separation anxiety as the other two. He’ll be back, of course (that’s why he’s a half) but then off to university — and your remark about mothers being the needy ones was so true. Joanna Trollope’s remark made me laugh, too!

  2. It’s all in the letting go isn’t it? We have to train them to grow up and leave us, to be sane, sensible people able to make the decisions that will help them survive in the world. I hope this first major separation goes okay for you, Litlove. It’s practice for bigger and longer separations, but that doesn’t take away the agony.

  3. Awwww: I’m not a mother, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like, but I’m sending you mental hugs. And of course, I’ll think positive thoughts about your son and wish for his safe return.πŸ™‚

  4. I can completely relate!! My little one is nearly 2 and I long for 1 hour of time to read or take a bath – but then on the other hand I miss her dearly when she is away from me!! I love the quote from Joann Trollope – usually the cats get kisses before me!!πŸ™‚ Good luck with the weekπŸ™‚

  5. I’m not a parent so can’t really relate but your post reminded me of C. Day Lewis’s poem ‘Walking Away’. I’m sure you know it – he talks about “the small, the scorching
    ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay” and “how selfhood begins with a walking away,
    And love is proved in the letting go.” I get a bit misty-eyed when I read a poem like that so maybe you shouldn’t re-read it!

  6. Harriet – the fact that you know it can be done is reassuring to me right now! If you’ve let your ‘half’ go off to India for a gap year then I salute you for doing much better than me! I’m glad you liked the Joanna Trollope remark – it always gives me a laugh. Charlotte – I can only hope that it does get easier with practice, and I’m sure practice is what I’m going to get. Thank you for such a kind comment. Eva – all hugs gratefully received at the moment – thank you!! And good vibes, too. What a sweetie you are. Darcie – oh that is such a cute, cute age, and such an exhausting one too. I remember it being almost like a love affair back then, there’s such closeness and mutual binding. And thank you for making me laugh about the cat! Pete – I have to confess I don’t know the poem, but it sounds beautiful and I will certainly be looking it up because it seems spot on. I don’t doubt for a second that I will be misty-eyed, too…

  7. Oh Litlove, cyber hugs to you! I don’t have children but now I understand why my mom hated that I went away to college and why she cried every time for the first two years when I returned to school after summer or holiday breaks at home. Your son will have a great trip and return with lots of wonderful adventure stories to tell you and you will be so proud about how he handled himself and got along so well-evidence of what a great job you are doing at parenting.

  8. Laraine Herring – “Every day, lose something.” And it seems you have just done that – not that you’ve lost your son – that will never happen – but that you have lost your idea that you need to have him to be who you are. Of course that’s not true. You are you – but how hard it is to be with ourselves sometimes.

    Meanwhile, I pray for his safety and for your freedom to keen into the supper dishes anytime you want.

  9. Oh my goodness, I feel your pain. When my son first left for school, only 2 hours away, my heart was in such a panic I really thought it would break. I had confidence in him, but I was still so frightened of what the world might do. That first year really was a marathon training for both of us. He had the most, absolute worst, roommate, he became very ill, and managed to take care of himself, by himself (I had to let him, though it was so hard). Now, three years later, he is ready for the real world, moving out of state, following his dream. I don’t panic anymore, I miss him desperately, but I survive. There is no love as limitless, as giving, as precious, as bittersweet, as a mother’s love, is there?
    This week is good training for your future! When he is an adult, you will be a very special kind of friends, and that is quite wonderful.

  10. Stefanie – what a sweetheart you are! Hugs gratefully received, and kind words, too. If he has good stories, I will certainly blog about them! Andi – yes, I’ve lost a certain level of tasks and a role, one I like. And they’ll return and keep on mutating over the years, I know. That’s fine advice there, beautifully expressed. Thank you. Qugrainne – you do say these things so very well. I do feel for you and your son over the course of that traumatic first year, and I really take my hat off to you for having found a way to let him learn to look after himself. And I do look forward to what our relationship might become and just hope I can be worthy of it.

  11. Oh my, this does unleash all sorts of feelings I thought were long gone – well, I knew they were never gone, I just hoped they were better buried.
    It was this line that got to me…” it comes to your attention that the person who used to love you is now still fond, but distant, engaged elsewhere, busy with other things.” I do feel that so often, with a son all grown up and quite successfully on his own.

    It’s such a curious thing, motherhood, because in doing it successfully, in raising a fully functioning, independent human being who can take care of themselves perfectly well in the wide world without your help, you’re actually doing the thing guaranteed to cause you (the mother) a great deal of emotional pain. But as Qugrainne said, this is good training for you, as well as for him, and will help you create a really lovely adult relationship with him – which I can attest is a wonderful thing to have.
    I’m quite sure he will have a marvelous time, and you will be amazed at the positive changes when he comes home.

    Meanwhile, as the mother of a world traveler, I’ll send good, comforting thoughts your way.

  12. I used to think they leave a little at a time, so it would be okay, because it’d be so gradual. But it’s events like this that show you the sum of all the little departures — and then you see there’s actually an enormous gulf between you and your growing child. It breaks your heart a little bit.

    I also think they come back too, someday, different and not exactly what you thought, but they aren’t ever truly gone. Because they are always a part of you, I do believe that, and you have to trust that it’ll be true except in a different way as they get older.

    I wish I could come over and keen at the cupboards with you and then have a really good cup of tea — my boys are all going away tomorrow too — for four weeks in one case, and a week for the other two, and although I love the quiet, I don’t think the dog is going to be a good enough replacement.

  13. Mine are still in the chimpanzee and goldfish stages,(age 3 1/2 and 5 months) but I know exactly what you mean: I sit around changing preparing sippy cups and freshening diapers all afternoon, and dreaming of the day I will be able to go see a movie by myself. But I doubt I will be able to sit through an entire movie without calling home to make sure everyone is surviving. I will be a mess by the time they’re old enough to trot off to foreign countries without me.

  14. I can’t imagine anything worse than finding a whole day has been pushed out of joint like this, for whatever reason. I was once prescribed an antihistamine that really disagreed with me. I took it on the Friday and woke up on the Sunday morning. I can still remember the disorientation. Let’s hope all goes well with the return trip.

  15. Since I was the custodial parent, most times my son was with me. It was difficult when he went to visit his father, sometimes for up to a week. But, I loved the alone time, despite a fair amount of guilt for doing so. However, when he first went away to camp, I fretted for a week, made even worse by the fact that he broke a bone and insisted on staying. The next year he went on a two week trip to England. Although I knew every person on that trip — and if I hadn’t I probably would have run criminal background checks on them — I was a mess for the entire time. I fretted until midnight UK time each day, figuring that he was asleep then and had somehow, miraculously, survived another day. I’d like to say that it was easier when he left for college last year, but it too had its fears and required letting go. Yes, these are losses, but they are also gains, signs that we have done our jobs as mothers well.

  16. Being a mother truly, truly is not for the faint of heart. I’m one of those weird people who, even though I’m not a mother, think I can still imagine exactly what it’s like and know I’d be a wreck if I were in your shoes (especially losing that whole day. I hope that means he’ll be coming home a whole day sooner. Does it?) It’s funny, I’ve recently been having thoughts about how selfish I was when I was younger and didn’t have a care in the world that my parents were worried about me when I, for instance, didn’t call or write for two weeks when I was in college. I’ve been wondering: when did I really grow up? When did I become someone who called as soon as I “got back home safely” not because my parents had told me they wanted me to do so, and I felt it was a pain-in-the-neck obligation, but instead did it because I didn’t want them to worry and knew how worried I’d be if I were in their shoes.

    Anyway, hang in there. I hope the cats are treating you especially well this week.

  17. My son went away this week as well, to Florida with a friend’s family, so I completely empathize with the emotions in this post. It’s still amazing that this child can survive a week without meπŸ˜‰

  18. Ravenous – I cannot tell how much comfort I’ve derived from comments such as yours. Whilst I wish it all went away, it’s reassuring to know that I’m not suffering some sort of aberration here! I always wondered how mothers let children go into the careless, indifferent hands of the world, and now I see how it pans out – we don’t but we keep quiet about it. Thank you for the solidarity. Bloglily – you know how much I wish you lived down the road! Oh all three boys at once – you are so brave and steadfast of heart. I’ve read your comment several times now, trying to commit what you say about the coming back to memory. Ella – Chimpanzee and goldfish made me laugh! And I can remember so vividly what those years were like. I, too, spent the rare date or day out phoning home obsessively, to the annoyance of everyone around me. If you do end up a mess, I’m sure it will be a witty, creative, loving one. Ann – would you believe he gets back at 1.30 in the morning?? Oh the joys of cheap flights. I feel shattered still today, but I’m hoping to have recovered by the time he returns… Cam – I loved your comment, which made me laugh and sigh in recognition and made my heart go out to you. I am trying really hard not to calculate what he’s doing all the time, and I’m sort of managing. Every time the phone rings, though, it sends a chill down my spine, just in case. Dorothy – it’s just one more thing I’m so thankful to the blogworld for that I can pour out how I feel here and have my friends help me out with their caring comments. Thank you for empathising. Emily – and you know what, no one tells you what it’s going to be like! I think in all fairness this is probably because it’s almost impossible to tell it just like it is. But I do believe that you are someone who could imagine the emotional dimension of motherhood very clearly. I think it shows how well your parents brought you up that you didn’t think about their worries until you were old enough to recognise the comfort you could give them in exchange. I hope with all my heart that my son is just the same – gloriously full of his own life and not having to look over his shoulder all the time to check I’m okay. And then one day he’ll enter a new level of awareness and (I hope) love.

  19. Yogamum – oh you made me laugh! I’m not convinced my son will survive yet! But solidarity to you, too. I find it so comforting to have other blogging mothers going through the same things.

  20. Oh Litlove I can only imagine how hard this is. I don’t have kids but for a couple of years my cousin lived with me and I was her “parent” basically. It was exciting, difficult, etc. but I wasn’t prepared to miss her as much as I did when she went back home to her mom. I knew this was just a temporary thing but still. I hope your son does great in Spain and hugs to you!

  21. iliana – what a sweetie you are! Thank you for the hugs, which I appreciate. How interesting to think you parented your cousin for a while, and how loving and courageous of you, too. What memories you must have of that time!

  22. I hope your son is having a great time! However, I totally understand that feeling of being rushed and unprepared (especially since he ended up leaving a day earlier than you expected). My niece is a chatterbox and sometimes I think don’t you want to go outside and ride your bike? But then she’ll sleep over a friend’s house and everyone will comment how unnaturally quiet it is without her chattering away at dinnertime. Don’t you sort of feel like you’re missing an arm or leg or something right now?

  23. Danielle – you express it exactly right! My son is happily home now, having had a fantastic trip, and when I woke at 2 in the morning to hear him chattering away in the kitchen with his dad, I felt my withered limbs stretch and grow again. He came up to say hello to me and his parting comment was ‘I’ll bet it was quiet around here this week!’ and indeed, it really was.

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