In the past two months, the fact that two of my three kids have flown the coop has really been settling on me. It’s happened in ripples, and kicks, and sputters and tsunami waves of emotion and adjustment, over the past couple of years. However, in the past two months, it’s really hit me that they are out there. In the world. The big, wide world. On their own. And while the reality of that is stunning, on so many levels, it has begun to settle on me in ways I didn’t really anticipate. It is a calm and bittersweet adjustment, that is non-negotiable.
Principessa has been pushing the boundaries of the mother child gig for a while. She’s traveled to wild and wooly places, and made her father and I hold our breath for nearly 5 years now. Her senior year of high school, while she was in Africa for four months, we heard about her near drowning in the Zambezi River, days after the fact—long after she’d dried off and had a “tale she’d drink on for years” (as our good friend Ian so often says). We learned of her near miss with a venomous snake from long distance, and waited with anxiety for details that would come by email. Our relief that it wasn’t her was chinked by the news that it bit her tent mate instead. Hard to feel truly relieved, while another parents child is in a hospital. The idea that that snake was coiled beneath my girl’s tent, just waiting for them to lift up the edges, and break camp in the morning…
While she traveled in the Middle East, the first couple of times, we adjusted to the idea that she was making big decisions, that we’d always advised her on. She was making them without us, and having the time of her life: sleeping on ancient walls, sharing tea with Bedouins in tents in the desert, seeing the pyramids, learning Hebrew in The Holy City, and doing all kinds of other things, that made it clear that she was establishing her own life, away from home.
It’s been no secret that she wanted to live in Israel, and make her life there. It’s been a long, hard adjustment for her family— constantly torn between our love, our desire to have her near us, and our belief that the world is indeed her oyster, and there are pearls to be had. I swung at every shadow in the beginning; I hated everything about her plan. But she’s always been a strong, intelligent, curious and determined person. She needs to be out in a bigger world than the one we raised her in, just as clearly as I need to be near the sea. She has deep, strong roots and they spread wide. She’ll finish a year of post college studies, of her choosing, this May, and as she negotiates her first salary and contract for her first real job— in Israel—and makes enormous life decisions, we have to watch from a distance of 6,700+ miles.
Her brother, Middle Man, has been an independent kid for most of his life. He’s always been adventurous and thrill-seeking. He doesn’t panic easily, he rolls with the punches, and he seems to find experiences that could be set in a movie. His mercurial disposition has kept us on our toes for all of his life. After one year at a high school level boarding school in Canada, he was making his own plans and depending on us less and less for support. When he left for China a month ago, for a semester abroad, followed by a summer internship in Taiwan, I knew that this was just the tip of his big plans iceberg. It was only a matter of time.
He’s studying Mandarin, and living in a place that is as foreign to his father and I as I can imagine. I love to travel, I love adventure, but the idea of living in China: in a culture so different than my own, with a language so daunting that my boy’s drive to learn it is staggering to me, with a population (20 million in Beijing alone, in 2011) that is surreal—it all just boggles my mind! When I try to envision my boy there, without us, so far (5,300+ miles) from our hopes and love, it’s hard to see it in my mind’s eye. I can imagine him in his dorm, at college. I can imagine him hanging out with his friends and having his school adventures, but now he’s off in a much bigger world, and I can’t see it. I can’t see him.
If I think too much about those number: 6,700 and 5,300, or 12,000 combined— I feel a swirl of emotions and thoughts, that is impossible to concisely describe. I am excited and giddy. I am envious, curious. I am sobered. I smile; I toss and turn; I smile again. I wonder; I wish; I hope. I long, I ache, I well up. It goes on, and on… in and out of the hours and moments of any given day.
The “Stop, Drop and Roll,” approach that I’ve always believed in, doesn’t work when it comes to my kids. No matter how many times I envisioned how they would grow up, what it would feel like, look like, taste like… I haven’t been prepared for any of it. It just keeps coming at me, and each new development causes me to flinch. I lie in bed at night, as sleep approaches, and try to imagine what they are doing in their different time zones. Constant math: ten hours ahead for her, and sixteen hours ahead for him… or to simplify (as if simplicity is a factor): 24 hours ahead and four hours back. Math puts me to sleep each night. Longing fills my dreams.
I try to figure out what my life will be like as they build their own castles further and further from my beach. Who will they marry? What will they do in their lives? Will they be happy? Where will I fit in? For each thrill and smile I feel, as they have their adventures and dream their own dreams, I am also reminded of the days that have already passed, and ones still to come. The silence in the house is comforting and jarring, at the same time. The clean surfaces, where their clutter once collected, still surprises me. Each time I think I’ve adjusted, there is something new to file in my emotional Rolodex. E is for Empty. E is for Eager, Excited, Enormous. C is for Children, Challenge, Care. The alphabet of my heart is filled with words that my children have taught me. It is limitless. This mother’s heart stretches and grows a little with each step they make. It also breaks a little, in the process.
There is no Stop, Drop and Roll, in parenting. We hope for the best; we wish upon the stars. When they go out and do what I’ve imagined… I am stunned, and utterly unprepared, because inevitably, their dreams and wishes are their own; I am no longer the captain of their ships. My babies are a combined 12,000 miles from me and that hits me nearly every day, often at the most unexpected moments. I try not to dwell on it; the fact just sits there in the corners of my mind and in the pieces of my heart… that those two people will always own.