Countdown to Let Go
Everybody tries to tell you how difficult it is to raise a teenager. And like many other things in life we just don’t want to be true we somehow convince ourselves our experience will be different. We will beat the odds, and some do – I was not one of those people. Despite the fact I was forewarned by well-seasoned parents who had weathered the hurricane of the teen years, I was still blind-sided by the person I gave birth to once she hit fourteen. I had a contractor who told me “you have to look at teenage hood like this: when your daughter is about fourteen a space ship comes down from another planet and snatches her up and replaces her with an alien kid. Now this foul mouthed, filthy, disrespectful, door-slamming alien will live with you for about four to five years and then one night, the space ship will come back and return your own child.” She is now almost eighteen and the space ship is no where in sight, in fact I think it got lost. What my contractor friend and others failed to prepare me for is the bitch-slapping that comes the six months before they head off for college.
I don’t know if it’s the universe’s way of helping you get to the place where you are truly happy to pack up their stuff and see them go or it’s just one more rung on the raging hormones, narcissistic ladder that eventually leads to adulthood. But whatever it is it sucks. And it’s doubly hard because as they are raging and and chomping at the bit for their impending freedom most parents are still holding on for dear life.
I remember the first day I picked up Taylor from pre-school, and I asked her what she learned that day: “I learned about pre- K”, her little eyes already set on the goodies another year would bring. I was just happy she was potty trained.
There have been many stages of growth since the pre- school to pre-k days. We got through the tweens and teens, but I had no idea of what would become the most difficult stage of all, in fact I had no idea it even existed…The Second Semester Senior.
If you have not had has this phrase hurled at you, translation is ” I’m on my way to college and your power meter just ran out of change.” It’s also been explained to me like it was at five am last Saturday after she finally walked in the door and I had called every hospital in a ten-mile radius. “What are you yelling about? Next year you will never know where I am, have you thought of that?” Well, yes actually, I have thought about that pretty much every day for the last two years. One hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go. I’ve also rehearsed how I’m going to get though dropping you off at your dorm, saying good-bye and knowing our life together will never be a daily regime again. One hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go. I think about it when I go to sleep at night feeling safe and secure because you and your sister are in your beds and I can get to you in case you need me like I have for eighteen years. One hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go.
I think about it when I walk by your very closed door every night and I want to come in and kiss you and just chat, because I know I have so few chances left to end my day that way: but I know you are deep in the land of FACEBOOK and your bigger life that no longer includes me. Sometimes I stand by your door for ten minutes weighing my options. One hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go. I think about it every night when I set the dinner table with four places and I know how soon we will be down to three. One hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go.
I think about it every morning after you’ve left for school, tears streaming down my face as I pick up all the clothes off your floor because I know next year the room will be clean yet empty. One Hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go. I think about it so hard sometimes when I’m walking down the street I long for the strength of a super hero with the ability to hurl time backwards and return you to your car seat. Yet I know that even if I could I wouldn’t as I do want you to grow up and I want to watch you become the person you are meant to be and truthfully I don’t want to go through another bar-mitvah season. One hundred and twenty- seven days to Let Go.
I was visiting my doctor yesterday and knowing my feelings he shared with me the story of the night before his oldest headed off to college. Like me he had been a single parent for part of his child’s life and they were very close. So Bernard had prepared a special evening, six o’clock tennis game on their favorite court, followed by dinner at their favorite restaurant and then he added with an equal mix of irony and truth he wanted to read him GOOD NIGHT MOON. His son had other ideas, he wanted to party with his friends. Bernard was not happy to say the least: since his power meter was out of change his son went with his friends. Happily I can report his son is now a successful screenwriter and they are very close.
But I thought this story aptly summed up the whirling dervish of feelings that takes place for parents at this monumental juncture. Part of you is longing for them to get with program and turn off the rage machine, part of you wants them to be mature enough to have a civilized dinner and share in the world’s events, while part of you longs for them to curl up in your lap and read GOOD NIGHT MOON six hundred more times.
You want them to want to spend time with you while you know it’s imperative for them to find their own place in the world where your shadow is nowhere to be found. But until you have your own children you never really understand how strong the attachment is and despite the fact they put you through so many sleepless nights, you count the hours until they are back in their beds if only for just a weekend.
People now tell me once they spend a year or two away they come back different people and you can’t believe how close you will become. You have to let them go for them to come back. Or perhaps the Space Ship now only has return service from college campuses.
One hundred and twenty-seven days to Let Go.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on May 4, 2009.