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Plane View

plane view

I saw Hoda Kotb today in New York about to start her third hour of The Today Show. I waved through the glass and she waved back! It was raining, but her sunny smile lifted me, exactly what I needed after settling my son into his dorm.

The morning before was the big move-in. We were happy, packed the right things (and they fit), the roommates were nice, and his succulents were digging their 14thfloor window. We left him there that morning since he wanted to get a feel for the place and grab lunch with his new buddies, and we drove around to find our own lunch. The morning’s high started to fade, and a strange quiet floated around us as we ate, cloaked in the bizarre enormity of our visit. My stomach was queasy, as if I had a root canal planned that afternoon, bringing the day down a few notches. A margarita offered a slight salve, temporarily tabling the pain.

We went about our day but didn’t hear from Benjamin who was busy with orientation. After the 6pm parent meeting, the three of us walked around outside close to his dorm in case he would want to join us for dinner. We looked up toward his room, craning our necks to find the 14thfloor. We were paparazzi waiting out a Ben sighting. It’s the one with the art leaning in the window, rightDoes anyone remember how low his shades were pulled? We needed a sign. Nothing.

Looking for a restaurant, we kept staring at our phones. Still nothing. I saw an ice cream truck inching along, its sick I took your child and he’s in my creepy van music droning, as if from an old Victrola. That same queasy feeling returned. We settled on pizza, telling the hostess table for three — but it might be four — and she got us a booth.

We walked the eight blocks to our hotel. 10 p.m. and still nothing. He is busy, I told myself, wondering what he did all day. The silence was deafening. I know he’s fine. He’ll move along carried by the stream of this city, lifted by friends and the good energy college brings. Certain he’s eaten, but where? Did he go to the dining hall or outDid I transfer money to his account? My monkey mind stopped long enough for me to sleep.

Up early the next day before anyone, I headed out on a fabulously long walk, ten miles if you count the whole day. After a few hours, I stopped for coffee, wondering how his first night went. Was the bed comfortable, roommates nice, dining hall decent? I thought of Maurice Sendak’s book, Pierre, about the family who came home to find their son missing, eaten by a lion. Where’s Pierre? Forget Pierre, where’s Benjamin? Maybe the city gobbled him up. I wanted to turn it upside down by its legs, give it a good shake and have it cough up Ben. Then we could all exclaim, “Ben was in there!” and  give him a hug and reunite, all happy and grateful.

Where in the world is Ben Greco? Will I get to see him before I leave? I bought him his favorite, Twizzlers, which I kept in my bag with the toiletries he forgot, as if carrying them around would will him to call. Still nothing.

Getting up to leave I checked my phone once more, and voila!, there it was, a shiny new text. He’s up, needs art hooks and two-sided tape, and might be free after his 10am session. A feast for sore eyes, the text lunged me back into our rhythm, our connection, and I felt a new purpose scanning my phone for a store. The packing, road trip, move in and now worry had worn me out, but all the walking smoothed out the rough spots. I reminded myself that while this may be his time, it’s mine too. Time to unlace our fingers, stop hovering, which served me well once upon a time, and park that helicopter. He knows the way home and will return.

It’s well documented that this college drop-off is a big deal for families. Friends tell me we should have a drink together to cry about the children we’ve sent away. Everyone keeps asking how I am, as if they know what’s ahead, seen my labs and feel the sympathy I’m evidently going to need. I’m scared to cry about this; maybe I’ll look like a loser, a wuss or the tears won’t ever stop. Instead, I’ve honed the ability to build up my eye’s tear duct muscles and am expert in holding it all back. I’ve felt it coming a few times but willed it to stop, willed my eyes to dry, shamed them into it even. So far, it’s working.

His roommate’s mom from Staten Island is darling and keeps texting me with news about the guys, hoping they’ll visit her one weekend. A mother hen, she went to IKEA on move-in day to buy furniture to hold their appliances — a microwave, toaster oven, even a rice cooker. She called me in the car, disappointed, wondering why I hadn’t taken a photo with her on my way out. At the height of move-in-my-child mode, I never considered this trip could bring me new opportunities. We were only a block away, so we stopped the car, and I walked back to the dorm so her husband could take our picture. She’s texted me every day since. I guess I’m not the only one missing her son.

So what’s there to cry about? I’m just a mother who dropped her child off at college. He’s healthy, in a great city, so what’s the big deal? It’s the shutdown of communication that gets me and the new normal with which I now must grapple. I won’t let myself text him often as I’ve read too many articles warning me what not to do at drop off and beyond. Let him reach out to me, they say. I know he will and when I see him again, he will have changed. We will soon fly home and walk into our own new normal, changing too. Our old and new selves will weave into something bigger, and we’ll see bits of each when we come back together again. And again. I know all of this.

Still, I feel it. A big chunk of my heart is walking around without me. I think it’s the strong part that holds back my tears, lifts me up and pumps B positive blood reminders through my veins. So why am I left with the weak part lamenting this and remembering that? I was the lens through which he saw so much. For this next journey, he will see things that I won’t, and vice versa. It’s not just walking, running, college and beyond. There is in-between stuff for which no mother can prepare you. It’s curiosity, confidence, growing up and seeing life and yourself through your own lens. Wherever he is, I know he will always be in my heart. Turns out, my muscles aren’t getting it done. Those damn tears, they keep returning.

I’m on the plane now heading home. The city below is alive and sparkling, and I can see the Empire State building near his school. He’s out there, down there, somewhere, and I’m leaving my heart in New York City. When you decide to have children, you sign up for your heart to break into pieces and live in other places. I’m a collision of equal parts proud, glad and sad. The memories are messing with me, tugging me to go back in time to tender moments, little hands and lullabies.

After we landed and got home, I noticed we each wandered into his room at separate times, looking around in the dark, the pillow and lamp gone, art taken off the walls. We feel him everywhere, while his stuff, his shoes, the physical evidence now lives six states away. It’s not a death, it’s life. It’s not negative, it’s positive. Still, I decided to torture myself and open his closet door. Gone, all of it. His brother came home from school today and as he often does, asked, “Where’s Ben?” He stopped himself, smirked and rolled his eyes. Duh.

What a trip it’s been but what a trip it still is. There are new memories ahead, family get togethers, conversations, work to do and places to go. I’m going to dry my tears, dust off my running shoes and get back to the business of life here with my family. I heart New York and I heart Benjamin, but mostly, I heart myself enough to let the sadness give way to joy. There was yesterday and there is tomorrow, but I think I’m going to tune in to Today.

 

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The Art of Letting Go

Restraints

A friend of mine broke her finger a few weeks ago. She was at the dog park and ready to leave when her lab decided to romp with the new batch of dogs arriving. He lunged playfully toward them and she instinctively pulled on the leash, forgetting for a moment they were in an enclosed space and it was safe to let go. That brief tug of war found the leash wrapped around her fourth finger, fracturing it. Had she released him, the worse thing is her dog would’ve played longer dragging its leash and she’d leave later than she wanted. Holding on, she endured a lot of pain and trouble, and now weeks later is still feeling the effects.

I similarly tussled with a lead, but it was a ski rope years ago when I was first learning. Friends in the boat taught me the circular arm motion to signal I wanted to turn around and go back, and the thumb up or down was to go faster or slower. I didn’t get up the first few times, but eventually I did. The one instruction I didn’t have but wish I’d been given (and which I now readily pass on) is to let go of the rope. Letting go wasn’t instinctive for me, like it is for most people, and after an impressive loop around the lake, I went down. Water rushed in and travelled so high up my nose my brain hurt. I held on for dear life, a soggy deflated dinghy being dragged against its will. I’m not sure if it was 30 seconds or just a few, but it felt like an eternity. You may be laughing right about now, but it was terrifying being dragged and not knowing how to stop it or if it would end at all. Somehow, I ended up releasing my grip and in that instant, everything changed: the noise melted away, I was perfectly still, and my friends returned.

Expectations

As a child, growing up we went to church downtown most every Sunday. There was a lot to do to get ready: the hair braiding, dress pressing, patent leather shoe locating, rushing around for this and that – and that was just my part of the 5-person family routine. This all after a packed week of school and tennis practice and homework and getting up early every other Saturday to clean my grandmother’s apartment. At church I was all in: I sang in the choir, did the father daughter offering collection and became confirmed. I especially loved working in the soup kitchen, feeding all those hungry grateful people, and later myself nibbling on crunchy buttered toast leftover from breakfast. Each Sunday my family would arrive at church all pressed and pretty, but we kids grew tired of revving up for this mandatory rushed routine. Now with children of my own, I’ve watched as other families have settled into their church ritual, hunting down boys’ khakis to replace their preferred sweat pants and girls posing after church outside in sweet Easter dresses and cuffed lacey socks, now slouched and at different heights. I always felt a little guilty we weren’t regulars at church, but I’ve let go of that image as how our Sundays ought to be. We are happy with our once or twice a year visit. It’s joyful and hopeful, especially at Christmas and Easter, and it works for us. We don’t have to go every Sunday to benefit or to belong. We can let that go.

Control

When my second child was born, I was determined to give birth naturally since I hadn’t with my first. I kept nervously watching the clock as my chances for an epidural diminished with each passing hour. I worked hard breathing through the pain, recovering and then gearing up for the next contraction, which was always near. Finally, the baby was coming and there was no more control, no more knowing what was ahead or even thinking about what to watch for. This was a free fall from an airplane without the promise of a parachute, I was in the first car on a roller coaster with a bottomless track, this was blind trust. I writhed, I shook, I screamed and then it was over. Actually, it was just beginning. The shaking stopped and I opened my eyes and held my sweet swaddled baby boy. I had let go, stopped watching the clock and let my body open up for my baby. And what do you know? It did exactly what it needed to do. And did it perfectly.

Things

Recently I sold a drop leaf table that belonged to my parents. We used it in our own kitchen and it served us well for years.  In time, though, the sentiment had become less sentimental since they had divorced and were now both deceased, and with so many dark wooden cabinets in our kitchen, the table’s dark color felt overwhelming and drab. When I finally did a light renovation of our kitchen, removing wallpaper and painting, I found another table that worked better in the room. Moving on from the rectangular and traditional honey maple table, the new one was round and painted white, and chairs tucked under it neatly. As I moved the old table into another room and brought in the new one, I realized I had held on to this furniture probably longer than I should have, longer than I enjoyed it for and it never felt like my own taste. That it was a family piece, that my parents loved it in some ways pressured me into believing I needed to use it as they had. After much debate, we agreed to let it go and a nice woman bought it for a fair price. I helped her move it to her car and as she drove away, the weight lifted. No worries of storing it or working it into our already crowded rooms. Someone else would now love it just like my parents had. And that was ok.

Friendships

In the last few years I’ve seen several friendships change, relationships I was certain never would. I’ve spent time replaying conversations and emails and texts trying to understand their evolution and how I can be kinder, a better listener and less critical of others and myself. For years I’ve held tight to how things used to be, yet I’m realizing these friendships are evolving as things naturally do. The conversations are different, the emails are fewer or less predictable, and the frequent need to connect has been replaced with busier schedules, time apart and new friendships forged. Some relationships move in a different direction and it might be time to let go a little and see what unfolds.

Family

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It’s a happy coincidence that I chose to post this blog today, February 27th, my son’s 18th birthday. This will be a year of letting go for me, for all of us. As he heads off to college, there will be the inclination to hold on just a little longer, a little tighter. But as much as I love and will miss him, I love him enough to let him go. I will be watching him fly to new and interesting places and heights. Just like the butterflies we had years ago that grew from larvae. Seeing them evolve into colorful butterflies was spectacular, yet the day they left to explore the world on their own was bittersweet. Just as it was watching the baby birds fly from their nest tucked in our porch soffit. These birds I had watched each day, and I noticed when their egg first cracked open and a determined beak poked through.

Letting go is not just about our stuff or situations. It’s about doing away with views of how things should be, how they could look or trying to talk yourself into something you know down deep you don’t want or never did. It’s about uncurling your fists long enough to release your fingers and wrap them around what you decide is next. It’s about not always looking back so you don’t miss what’s ahead. It’s the best of both worlds, really. One door closes, another opens.