Friday, September 18, 2009

A Rebirth for the New Year

I have said this before, but I must say this again, the best thing that has happened to me as a result of writing my deepest darkest obsessions is I have been given the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. It is funny that right when you are suffering a feeling of loss, new possibilities present themselves. Human kindness is around us, we just need to decide whether we are willing to let it in. For me, my friends seem to understand me although some have not seen me for many years. They engage with me with their smart, insightful, witty, and heartfelt personal stories. From them, I am learning that opening up offers me an opportunity to take in new things, like the renewal of old friendships. What journey I am on. And on the Jewish New Year, a rebirth of spirit and friendship surrounds me. I want to thank my dear friend Jodie for getting in touch with me and sharing her story with all of us. As I read her words, tears ran down my cheeks. I am so happy to know her. I am so happy to know I am not alone. And I thank her for her honest and beautiful words.

Jodie Lunine Kaplan
Marriage, Family Therapist

When thinking about my son leaving for college (I should say “our” son, but this is really more my issue than my husband’s), it makes me feel like the main character in The Time Traveler’s Wife. Time loses all sense of linearity. I seem to go from wondering what he is doing in the present to picturing him in preschool or even before, crawling forever due to being a late walker. I have flashes of myself as a young mom struggling with the overwhelming newness of everything and the mom of a teenager experimenting with the boundaries of love, identity and sometimes stupidity and recklessness. The obsessive thought of my trying to lasso time and reign it back in was the theme of this past year. But time just keeps going. Now, the concept of time has become one big piece of silly putty, stretching out moments from so long ago to compacting time into a small little ball where 18 years goes by in a flash. As a mom struggling with the emotional upheavals of launching her first child, I’ve entered a door of uncertainty. Not only for my son, Seth, but for me.

I didn’t fall apart, (yet), like I thought I would when I took Seth to Boston (so far from California). He was actually having a more difficult time than I was and I needed to be strong for him. His anxiety about moving across the county to live away from his friends and family was overwhelming to him. After 2 hours of schlepping boxes and suitcases the four blocks to his dorm room and the 3 hours of disinfecting the room (it’s a mom thing), unpacking and putting everything in its perfect place, the room was finally set up. It was a room filled with all of his new stuff, but not yet a home. Later that night, while in a very vulnerable moment, he admitted, “I’m ready to go home now”, which broke my heart. How was I going to leave him in two days? “You’re going to be fine,” I said, “just give it 3 weeks and see how you feel”. A long time ago, my therapist told me that any change takes about 3 weeks to settle in. Would it be that way for me? I don’t think so.

The final goodbye, which I had been dreading since he entered 12th grade, was totally anti climatic, which I realized was how it should be. We both couldn’t handle a meltdown of tears and clutching. A simple hug in the dorm room and an even simpler hug on the street was all I got before he went on his way to his first class. I made sure he was the one who walked away from me, as it should be. A healthy separation. Good for me. The therapist part of me knew best that this was a healthy goodbye. The mom in me was ready to melt into the sidewalk in despair. I had an hour before I had to leave for the airport so I started walking…fast. I distracted myself by window shopping on Newbury Street and then distracted myself further by buying something. A souvenir of grief.

For all of you moms out there, and it really seems to be a mom thing, the process of sending your child to college feels like their first day in kindergarten. It is a huge step in the beginning of their life. Questions of “Will he be happy?” Will he make new friends?”, “Will he be able to make the right choices without my being there to guide him”, were all the same. I think too, Seth even emotionally regressed to those young years during that weekend. I had to remind him to eat and drink, something he kept forgetting to do during those first few days of starting his new life.

You should know that I am not totally an empty nester. My daughter is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. Because she won’t be driving for another 6 months, I am cherishing the moments in the car together, hearing about her day, her struggles and her accomplishments. I’m holding on to these times, because once she’s driving, another cord will be severed and another separation will occur. I remember when my kids were young and I was exhausted and craving a life I had before motherhood, I envied parents of older children who had so much freedom. “You’re so lucky”, I told them. I don’t think “lucky” describes the way I’m feeling now. Unless, lucky has become a new stage in the grieving process and nobody told me.

I guess the part that I didn’t expect was the parallel reality I seem to be experiencing. I’m dealing with missing Seth, seeing him and hearing about his life or his sarcastic view of life. But I’m also feeling the hole of what is left after he took his life with him. Although I’m busy with my career as a psychotherapist, I didn’t realize how much of my life was wrapped around his. Four years of high school football, homework, endless music lessons and keeping him from harm took an incredible amount of time, energy, prayers…and of course love. Now there is a big space left of knowing that I will never be that involved in his life again. He may call every other day and share snippets of his life, but the actual being in his life in a close way, will probably never be the same. And that’s the part, no one told me. The hole left behind. It’s huge and deep and leaves a sadness that will probably never fully go away. How did these past 18 years sandwiched between the me then, and the me now, go so fast?

I guess I now need to reinvent myself. As I was dorm shopping for him and organizing and packing, I had a flash of “Okay, so what was it I was doing 18 years ago?” What did I leave behind that would be wonderful and fabulous to pick up again? I don’t know. I’m not that person anymore. Reconnecting with dreams from long ago feels like entering a maze backwards and in the dark. I know that the dreams are probably quietly awaiting me somewhere, but they will be new dreams and new experiences that will come forward. I slowly, cautiously and reluctantly enter the next phase of my life. As I learn to fill the hole left behind with reconnections of friendships (that I stopped having time for) and the calling of self care (another depressing topic) , I enter a new path filled with uncertainty and a knowingness that part of motherhood is constantly learning how to adapt and let go.

The psychic umbilical cord now reaches to Boston. When Seth called me the other night asking for help with an essay, I almost broke into tears. The need to be needed is strong and I was shamelessly overjoyed that he still needed and wanted my opinion…and me. We will both get through this transition. I know when he comes back for Thanksgiving, he will be changed forever. How can he not be? He will have successfully made it though a huge psychological and physical individuation and transformation. He will also probably be bringing back tons of dirty laundry which I will never be happier to do for him.


  1. How wonderful to listen to the words of someone who just dropped off their kid to college. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Great piece. Love that you have such wonderful friends that are willing to share. I cried reading this. I can't imagine having to bring my kid to school in a few short years.

  3. Happy New Year and may a renewal of spirit shape your year to come.

  4. Sheri Nissinger EffresSeptember 19, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    Jodie, I share your sentiments wholeheartedly. Since I took my daughter to college last month, I've been living vicariously, experiencing the loneliness, boyfriend heartache issues and the basic challenging issues of living on one's own for the first time. I preach constantly as my goal is to keep her from making my college mistakes! It must be a "girl" thing. I loved reading your blog entry and why didn't it ever occur to me to disinfect the room? I was too consumed with creating more space in her closet for all of her clothing!

  5. Thank you for the window into our collective maternal futures, Terry, Jody, and Teresa. I love the idea of the psychic umbilical cord and I will cling to this thought as I let my son walk away from me each day.
    I am not yet letting my thoughts and emotions delve so deeply into the ache of the future separation from my son. Instead, I am trying to let out the cord little by little as I hand him the keys to the car, while I wait for him to saunter home from his eventful day, and when I see he is full of happiness from his new girlfriend.
    Changes between my son and I continuously take place. The rush to the pick-up car lines and listening to the chatter in the back seat are events long gone. These memories are still warm and bring a smile to my face, but they have a new place in my heart as they move from current to past with a sting.
    I am secretly observing and acknowledging the transformation of our lives and deliberately moving the past daily activities of motherhood to my warm shelf of memories. I am looking for and seeing our changing relationship with excitement. I am sure this will not lesson the heartache when Conor moves to college, starts his career or gets married in another town, but I hope it will allow me to be more thankful for our past, relish our current and approach our future with loving optimism.