Friday, May 25, 2018

Rebirth

It's that time of year again.
All around us, High School seniors are graduating. Many of the mothers of these children find themselves a ball of hormonal emotions, insides all tangled up as they pour over slideshows capturing their children set to the soundtrack of their lives, rendering them useless as they collapse in the fetal position. Or snarf a bag of potato chips. Or down a bottle of wine. Or all three at the same time.
It's not sadness, not exactly. I liken it to more of a melancholic nostalgia, or a yearning of all the years leading up to this milestone in life, and a desire to hit pause on certain moments in time. It's a teeter totter ride topping at pure euphoria from the moment they were born with a quick descent into the here and now that we've all grown used to, but will never look the same again. With many of our kids leaving home soon, we realize that our daily landscape is about to change dramatically. No longer will they couch potato-it when we walk in the door after work or errands. They won't bound in with endless energy after school to tell us about their day. We won't know with a single glance whether they're feeling good or bad, need a cup of coffee or a nap, have something thrilling to tell us or just got the wind knocked out of them. Life as we know it is ending. And we don't know what the future will hold for these creatures we helped grow, nurture and love, so it's a little bit scary. How do we cope?
We look back, and we reflect. We think of times to which we'd like to return, if only for a minute, to recapture some of that nostalgia. Perhaps we've an urge to hit rewind and sniff our baby's head, just one more time.
Or snatch up their freshly bathed budda belly for one more bedtime snuggle...
...or spend a day lost in imaginative play encouraging their very best version of weird.
We think back to the first of many lessons in rejections, when they learned the meaning of the word "NO."
And to the countless days of drudgery that we might have overlooked as ordinary, but in reality they were filled with beautiful glimpses of the extraordinary.

We also remember with gratitude the seemingly unimportant encounters...
...and pause to realize just how lucky we are for so many overlooked, unseen opportunities we've had to share these little people with others who continue to shape their lives.
We recall those first days of separation and how for some of us, our hearts ripped wide open because they left for a greater portion of the day for preschool or kindergarten.  
It made us sad to close one chapter - the one where we spent every waking moment with them - but let's be real, people.
Did you wish for a break during those endless days when you were lucky to get your ass out of yoga pants? Be honest. You were happy for a few hours to yourself, to take a crap with nobody watching, and to sit on that couch with an extra cup of coffee while you heard yourself actually breathe for the first time in years.

Their entrance to real school gave us an opportunity - time. Time to rededicate ourselves to something we took joy in before every ounce of our free time and energy was devoted to raising tiny humans.
But our dreams of writing novels and starting new hobbies were quickly dashed as we sat with them nightly to help with homework, agonizing over how simple multiplication tables morphed into a vortex of abstract theory since our own days of roaming the elementary school halls.

As they grew so did their problems, and we helped them navigate through them, handing over more and more responsibility for them to take care of their own issues along the way.
We drove them to practices, and maybe had a moment when we dropped them off for the last time. We worked hard to shape and form ideal childhoods, hopefully with some hard knocks mixed in so they aren't leaving us as entitled snowflakes.

I speak from a bit of experience, having already gone through this with my firstborn. And I'm here to tell you that there's no right or wrong way to traverse this transition. You might have bawled through your kid's entire senior year, and that's OK. Maybe Pomp and Circumstance isn't forever ruined for you, so you well up during the ceremony with images of preschool graduation swimming in your mind - totally cool. Maybe seeing your baby dressed up like a real grown up for prom did it for you.
Photo by Capture the Canvas Photography, Minooka, IL
Photo by Capture the Canvas Photography, Minooka, IL

Also fine. It's all fine.

But if you're like me and none of those things get you, then take a listen (skip the ad after a few seconds).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77GB_IUhRCw

Go ahead. Torture yourself. Click that link.

Maybe you'll hear this song in the car at the Trader Joe's parking lot ten weeks after you drop your kid off at college while the world crashes down on you like a ton of bricks in a hail storm, and you'll miss him so hard your heart physically hurts.

So there's the proof that I don't feel - I feel plenty. I just know that my perspective is different. I focus on the next - perhaps too much - versus the here and now. Or maybe in this case my here and now level of melancholic nostalgia is mixed with so much gratitude and pride and relief and hopefulness for the future that my sadness meter is out of whack.

I am excited to see what the future holds. I know it's going to be fun and bumpy to see what he does.

It's also exciting to see what I will do.

Parents, we are embarking upon a period of rebirth. Obviously our graduating seniors move forward after this weekend - it's all we've been thinking about for the past year, and it's what we've worked toward for the past eighteen. Our kids will set forth upon a new course, one that follows nothing like the only schedule they've ever known. New choices, new opportunities, new adventures and new experiences await them.

The exact same lies in store for us. What kinds of new choices will you make now that you're an empty nester, or minimally that one of your kids is out of the house? What new opportunities will you tackle now that you have a dollop of time returned to your life? What new adventures and experiences will you make a priority?

It's not just about the kids. It's entirely about us as well, and how we will move forward. Just like when we brought them home from the hospital, scared that the "What to Expect" book might have missed a step in responsibly raising another human into a respectable creature, we now are terrified all over again. Did we do it right? Will they remember to use their manners? Will they eat vegetables and brush their teeth? Will they be respectful, and kind, and do great things?

Yes. They will do it all. And they'll make mistakes, and so will we. We'll worry too much, call too much, not call enough, nag too much, and generally continue screwing up this parenting thing.
But they'll come home grateful for us, with a deeper appreciation for what we've done and continue to do for them. Our relationships with them will evolve into a maturity that quite possibly is just as beautiful and emotionally gratifying as holding their infant body in our arms as we sniffed their baby heads.

Hang on, compadres. Change is coming, and it'll all work out. Think about how you too now enter a phase of rebirth, and consider how you'll transform into the middle aged adult you want to be.

XOXO,
Jen