My firstborn just left for college. Boom. Just like that.
All the years of silently knowing this day would come, did not help me feel prepared for the anxiety and sense of loss that has accompanied these past few weeks.
One day she’s here, everything status quo, the next day we drop her off and get her settled in… and that’s it. Boom. Gone. Moving on. Not missing home.
As a single parent, and I do mean single… I have had the opportunity to enjoy perhaps a different quality of relationship with my firstborn daughter, than I may have done if I were in a loving coupled relationship. Over the past 9 years, I have spent my non-work hours solely committed to my four kiddos in their various stages of childhood and adolescence, immersed in the drama, hilarity, and non-stop action that is family life.
Splitting off my eldest from our family unit feels to me like electively having a finger removed– I can live without it, but nothing will ever feel the same again; I will eventually forget that it’s missing and learn to compensate, but whenever I get my nails done or play the piano its absence will be undeniable. Yes, yes… she is doing what most parents these days seem to want for their kids–she’s going to college and not only that, she’s going to a damn good one, and with a great scholarship. Oh, yes, and it’s only 30 minutes away from home. I am both proud and blessed.
So, why all the weeping and moaning? Here it is… even though she’ll come home for breaks and weekends(sometimes) and summers(I dearly hope), my daughter’s life is now taking place outside of our family unit. It is not likely that we will ever permanently live under the same roof again. I love living with my daughter. I love sharing life with her. I want to continue to do so… and so I must bravely walk forward and give her ample freedom at this time, while holding the space for her in my heart and in our family. Finding courage to withstand this change, and trusting that her love for me and the family will not be crowded out by her new experiences and relationships, is the nugget I’m chewing on now.
It All Goes Back to Me…
When I was dropped off at college, 700 miles from home(my idea), 17 years old and eager, the doors of the family RV and my childhood slammed shut behind me. My family seemed to effortlessly, even gracefully, glide into a tidy 2-kid household. They bought new cars, made new friends, even went on great vacations to island destinations I’d never dreamed of seeing. Coming home on breaks from college every few months was uneventful, boring even. My younger siblings had new friends and activities. My parents seemed uninterested in me. High school friends were dispersed. I felt like a ghost in my own home.
After graduating from college summa cum laude, and walking through commencement with my close friends, I celebrated with the family of my best friend before packing up my car and driving home from Oklahoma to Ohio, alone. My family had not come to see me graduate. Still bright-eyed and optimistic, I headed home to figure out what to do next with my newly-minted Bachelor’s of Business Management degree. Career planning? I don’t even know if that existed at my college then. Job interviews? Were they even done on campus when I graduated? Clearly, this kid, though book-smart, was not about to turn the business world upside-down. Starting college, my own choice of majors was pre-med, but my ever-conservative mother advised me that was shooting way too high, and convinced me to be safe and get a business degree. Wait, mom, what was your degree in? Home economics?
Back home again, my life before me, I felt an awkward uneasiness from my parents. It gradually dawned on me that my parents were concerned I would fail to launch, that I would be one of those kids who saddled their parents for years with a lingering sense of responsibility and disappointment. It was made clear to me that I needed to get out and get on my own, ASAP. Oh, why? Not because I ever disappointed them before. I was the model child, the pleaser, the straight-A student, babysitter, house-cleaner, meal-cooker, responsible-one-that-can-be-counted-on. Why the hell would I suddenly fail to produce?
Cutting ahead, I did not fail to launch. I got out on my own. I went through a series of starter jobs, and a brief first marriage, and not finding anything to sink my teeth into, started medical school 4 years after graduating college. No thanks to mom and dad for encouraging this bold change of direction. Kudos go to my boyfriend-at-the-time who encouraged me to go for my dream of becoming a doctor. He believed in me-that’s all it took to catalyze the transition from bored to big plans. (Thanks, Geoff. Ironically, our relationship ended when I started med school.)
Back to my own daughter, Emily, and her leap to college.
I actually thought I was going to be able to keep her at home a bit longer than it turned out. Up until recently, Emily was very unmotivated about her plans for after-high school. She even considered not-going-to-college. This would consist of a ‘gap year’ or other shapeless style of living, mostly centered on hanging out in her room. Uncertain about what to major in, she had a healthy suspicion that any advice given by mom was likely way wrong. While this mindset would have caused my own parents’teeth to curl, I was actually very OK with that possibility. I really, really like my daughter. A lot. We have a very good resonance between us. And while I want all good things about growing up and becoming fully herself, I was A-OK with the idea of a little more time together before she flew out of the nest.
The first of four, Emily is my wingman. She’s my kid who likes to just hang out around me. She likes to go to the grocery with me, lunch with me, binge-watch TV series with me. She rides shotgun on our family roadtrips and we talk for hours. She’s my firstborn, and that’s maybe why we are like we are together. Emily and I have a We dynamic that is special. So going down this road of her going to college is not only unfamiliar, it’s scary. I hope our We is strong enough to weather the separation, new friends, new experiences. Will she be excited to come home? Will I have to experience the separation pain every time she goes back to school? Is our relationship really going to change because of this? Will it be closer, or more distant?
Part of the fullness of my experience is the We I have with Emily. I don’t want that to stop. If that’s selfish, I’m good with it.
I Hate Being Left
Some people always seem to need to be right. I just hate being Left. Behind, that is. I want to do this college thing, like everything else so far, side by side with Emily. This distance, this separation, is just so undeniable.
Also, there is the possibility that my child leaving me to grow up and do-her-own-life means, well, that I’m Old or knocking-on-the-door-of-being-Old. She gets to start All Things New. She gets to go for it with all her flags flying, torches blazing, cannons firing, and she gets to do it with her nice, clean, slate, no holds barred, no strings attached. And I want her to. I encourage her to do every little thing that she can to scratch the itch of her curiosity and ingenuity. I’ve been Head Cheerleader for Team Emily all her life. I just want to do it with her. I want to take a big new run at life, fresh, full of myself, and full of encouragement from my tribe. And to stand next to my daughter as physical evidence of my love for her and our relationship.
But all I get is plantar fasciitis. Chronic neck pain. And a weird clicking in my left index finger joint.
Wait, why do you feel left behind? Don’t you have a life of your own? Bingo. Nailed it.
I Need to Get a Life, or, How Can I Date? It’s Just Too Much…
I have the universally-experienced human needs. Desires. Hopes for someday having a loving, longterm relationship. I have really felt the absence of comfort, support, and companionship over the years of raising a full household of children. But I have been willing to temporarily postpone my own experience of romantic partners in the past few years for several related reasons. Partly due to being spread too thinly over full-time job and full-time parenting, partly due to not having ready access to interesting candidates, and partly due to reluctance to take on the vulnerabilities of dating while remaining responsible and available to my kids, I have not dated in earnest since separating and ultimately divorcing from my kids’ father several years ago.
It’s a mixed bag when it comes to the choices single adults make when desiring a relationship during the process of raising a family. A dear friend of mine, having moved in with her longterm BF and blending their 5 kids into one household, after one year recently went through the breakdown and breakup of her relationship. In such cases, not just two, but seven hearts are broken.
On the other hand, if I were to find a happy relationship my present situation, I would be happier, more fun to be around, and more resilient. I might be an all-around better person. So far, my inner compass has not felt it worth the risk to venture forth to engage the dating scene, gambling with my time and attention in the hope of winning big.
I’m not blind to my own fallabilities. I need an objective presence, a beneficent mentor to help me calibrate my thoughts and take actions on my own behalf, on behalf of my own needs and the life I deserve to have. It’s time for me to stop postponing my own fulfillment. I need to see clearly and rely less on feelings.
So I’m getting a life coach…
I’ve done the counseling thing. A lot. Mucho. Mostly concentrated around the last few years of marriage, but peppered here and there throughout my adult life. Not real impressed with the results.
Undeniably though, I’m at a crossroads. I can take the emotional energy from the transition of Emily going to college, and and apply it to my own transformation. This is the beauty of emotional energy. Not good or bad, it simply IS. Energy is energy. You can let it dissipate, spread out over time and space, or you can focus it and wield it as a tool to leverage anything you want.
“Oh, you’re denying your own negative emotions, that’s not good.”
Nope. I feel my negative emotions. I feel them real good, deep down to where they’re scratching on the cold hard steel of my soul. I let them linger, I smell them, taste them, cook with them, sleep with them, rub my face in them. But when I’m finally satisfied with my misery, I take all that emotional energy, and mentally ball it all up in a wad the size of my fist. Then I can take aim at something that’s blocked in my life, and do a Harry Potter “Expelliarmus!” with it. Boom. Reduce, re-use, recycle.
Yes, a life coach…
So, a life coach is a person with special qualifications to assess and assist one in identifying areas which need, ahem, tweaking in order to attain the quality of life experience that one desires (my from-the-hip definition). I’m enrolling with The Handel Group, which hopefully assures me of gaining a coach with very special qualifications. Everything from relationships to career and lots of details in between are shared between client and coach.
It’s taken a long while for me to pull the trigger. I’ve considered such a move before, but back-burnered it for all the usual reasons-expense, time commitment, is this really a good choice for me? etc. Until recently, when reading a post on Dr. Mark Hyman’s blog, where he touts the benefits he has garnered using a coach from The Handel Group. It got my attention.
Now, with Emily’s recent departure, I see her appropriately moving on. I want it all for her. And I still want it all for me. So it’s time for me to reach out for help, to ask for a partnership with a professional who can give me some much-needed perspective. I want to feel that I am all-of-me again, like I did so long ago before ever having kids, before ever having the experience of being diminished by life’s demands and upheavals. Even just the feeling of wanting it is a good starting place.