Escape Velocity


It’s here. After eighteen and half years, the time has come.

It began when the doctors put a tiny bundle into each of my arms. “Hello,” I whispered to their newborn, old man faces. We were already acquainted, you see – I knew a lot about their personalities from their behavior in utero, but seeing them as fully formed individuals separate from me was a whole different experience. Today, my sons are separating in a new way, leaving me physically, just as they did when I gave birth to them, but roaming much farther afield this time. Turns out, this separation is more painful than childbirth. 

To distract myself, I became immersed in the zany imagination of Robyn Peterman and her latest Sea Shenanigans book, Ariel’s Antics. Thankfully, Ms. Peterman inspires belly laughs to go with the tears that splash down my face at the drop of a hat these days. She also gave me a wonderful lesson in parental parting in the form of two dysfunctional Selkie brothers (seal shifters) whose parents leave home because their sons refuse to vacate their basement. I hope my husband and I won’t have to employ this strategy, but the situation does give one pause. 

Keith and Kurt are Selkies who refuse to grow up. Even though they are three hundred years old. So, their parents decide to abandon them to their fate, in the hope that they will learn to cook and do laundry before they starve or run out of underwear. Time to launch, boys. 

My husband and I are in a similar boat, except, thankfully, that our boys are on a more conventional schedule. One son will begin college this week.  His brother will soon follow.  We will say goodbye to them for longer than we ever have before. I’m not sure how to do this without my heart shattering. There are so many thoughts and feelings clamoring for airtime inside me that I’m a tangled mess of pride in their accomplishments, grief at their departure, fear for the future and excitement about this next chapter. My head and my heart are about to explode. 

As my husband says, it’s been a helluva run. Maybe that’s the hardest part for me.  There is every reason to believe that the best is yet to come. At the same time, we must face the fact that the most meaningful “job” we’ve ever had is moving from full time to part time, whether we want it to or not. I hate it when I don’t control timing and outcomes. Which is, of course, all the time, because control is an illusion. But I like my illusions. Reality can be such a bitch. 

And the truth is, in this most important job we will ever have, we were good. Damn good. And I know that life can certainly continue to get better, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.  And while I’m excited to see the next chapter, I’m also sad to say goodbye to this one.  I’m one big contradiction.

The night before our departure, our son made a toast at dinner, “To our family. We won’t be together like this again until Thanksgiving.”  Cue the waterworks. I had to excuse myself from the table lest I embarrass all of us with my ugly crying. What the fuck, kid? Were you somehow unsure that I was barely holding myself together to enjoy one last family meal at a nice restaurant—where we decided to go for the precise reason that I didn’t want to lose my shit completely if we ate at home? Or were you just speaking your own truth without much regard to how it would affect others? Oh, right, you’re eighteen. Your mother’s tears were an unintended side effect of yourself absorption. I got it. And it’s okay. As Robyn Peterman reminds us in her silly but serious books, it’s what moms do.

Kate, the Selkie mother of Keith and Kurt, recognized that parents must often do the hard thing in order to help our children grow up or even just grow. Like sending our children three thousand miles away to go to school. And in doing the hard thing, we bring the pain on ourselves. But that is what we signed up for that very first day when our bundles of joy entered this world.

As parents, if we’re good and we do what we should, we are the instruments of our own emotional meltdowns as we encourage our little birds to leave the nest and soar by themselves. And we admire their flight and hope they will come back occasionally to bask in the kind of love only a parent will ever give them.

This whole process reminds me of an excerpt from one of my very favorite poems, In Blackwater Woods, by the inimitable Mary Oliver. It’s the last part that shreds my heart every time. Because change is hard. And love is harder.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

Please hand me a tissue while I bask in delight that my boys aren’t in the basement after a mere 222 months— as I think about sprucing it up to make it more inviting.