This Mother’s Heart Stretches and Grows…

When their world held only 10" of water...

When their world held only 10″ of water…

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.

And their dreams were of first grade.

And their dreams were of first grade.

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.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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28 Responses to This Mother’s Heart Stretches and Grows…

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Hard to believe I will be facing this too someday–and sadly not that far off in the future. While they’re at home with you, you just assume it will always be the case, until one day it’s not. I remind myself of that every time I get irritated by the sound of my boys wrestling with each other or by having to pick up yet another one of their possessions from the floor. I tell myself that someday I won’t hear those sounds or see those things on a daily basis, and it helps keep my irritation in check.


    • I told myself all of those things as well. The reality is, no matter how many times you tell yourself to breath, and notice all those things that will one day not be there… suddenly it’s just there, and you didn’t see it coming. Maybe it will be very different for you, but that’s how it’s been for me. Each time I think I have my bearings, they change.


  2. Wow. So beautifully put that I’m almost feeling the empty nest thing here in my little home- and I still have many years to go. You brought me right into your world. Every time I am fed up with the mess that is my house and fed up with having to deal with the challenge that is Little Man, I will try like crazy to remember this post… stop… and take a deep breath, knowing that it will be over before I even know it.


  3. Oh, I understand and ache for you. I thank someone everyday that the boys are in the US- and nearby for now. There’s rumor that the 2nd one wants to return to Israel; I’ll pull my hair out. Will your son see your forex student from China? I know- huge country… and will you get to visit him there? I’ve never been and would love to go. It’s a credit to you and your husband that the kids feel free to explore and grow. I’ll never forget a story from years ago when Nathan was still in Israel his first time and I’d brought in a bunch of photos to have develop. The woman working in the shop had sons about the same age as mine and we started chitchatting. She said something I’ll never forget: “I did everything I could to keep them near by.” (They are all very near by). I thought to myself, what a waste– what’s the point of giving them an education if that’s the attitude they have? sorry for the rambling… xox


  4. veronicad1 says:

    I love cyclinggrandma’s sentiments and truly support them. I have told my kids they are not allowed to go to college here in Bham or else I’m moving away. In theory, I, like you, want them to fly away, explore the world, find their passions, make a difference, etc, etc. BUT, I have NO IDEA what I will feel like when they actually do leave! I listen to you and just wait. I guess this summer when J is gone for 3 weeks to Seattle will give me a little tiny taste. Hmmmm


  5. Lyssapants says:

    You sound so proud! You have amazingly ambitious kids!


    • I am proud. But mostly, I’m adjusting. I wanted them to be adventurous, but I guess I didn’t fully understand what that would look like. They are either very ambitious or dying to get very far away from us! 😉 Cool kids, for sure.


  6. This was beautiful, Dawn. I think we can all surmise that you did something very right in the raising of your children. They’re living their dreams, they’re unafraid and adventurous. To choose these lives they both had to feel very grounded. That’s where you come in. I guess you did such a great job that they flew the coop to far off places. If only you had made them anxious and dependent! Oh well, too late now! 🙂 You did good, Dawn. I know a little bit about having them far away, and it’s not easy. Luckily you’re a great writer and can express those feelings whenever they become overwhelming, and we, your readers, will enjoy every word.


  7. Anonymous says:

    So well said Dawn, That is a time I am not looking forward to. Just think of the great vacations you will have in the future. I know that does not make it any easier. I did the same thing as a young adult. As I got older, I appreciated my parents more and more. Now I am back living just twenty some miles away rather than 3,000.


    • Anonymous says:

      So well said Dawn, That is a time I am not looking forward to. Just think of the great vacations you will have in the future. I know that does not make it any easier. I did the same thing as a young adult. As I got older, I appreciated my parents more and more. Now I am back living just twenty some miles away rather than 3,000.


  8. Dan Hennessy says:

    We raise our children to be independent wise individuals —- and we have to let them go to be that .Congrats to you .


  9. Fay says:

    Thank you for writing such an emotional post. Truly amazing. I moved out of my parents but then moved back due to some tough circumstances. I have now unveiled my plans to travel for just over a month and they are lets just say apprehensive. Informing me of all the terrors of the world but also trying to remain encouraging! I feel for them I really do. The one thing i always make sure they know is that I love them as your children do also. No matter how old I get I will always be my parents little girl!

    Thanks again enjoy the peace and quiet!! 😀


    • Thanks Fay. I think that the option to go home, is an important safety net—but the freedom to fly, is so important! No matter how hard it is (and it is), I’m so happy that my kids feel excited to explore the world, and do amazing things while they’re young. That time is limited, and it’s so important to not waste it. Enjoy your travels! Thanks so much for checking out my blog. I hope you’ll read some other posts, and share your thoughts. Much appreciated.


  10. Your mother’s perspective is so much different than mine as a father. As I read through the emotions of your separation from your beautiful children I was thinking how, as a father, I experienced a steady stream of mini-separations from my children each day as I left for my job. Perhaps that prepared me for the inevitable day when they would move out. However, it was my wife who, like you, got the children ready for school every day, chauffeured them to their dentist appointments, served them their daily meals, and otherwise saw to their everyday needs in ways I never could. You brought home how much more difficult separation from the children must be for a mother. This is a good, early Mothers Day story. Thank you for your insightful mother’s perspective.


    • Dang! You are so good at pointing out ideas that I missed: Mother’s Day post. Eek. Perhaps a reblog.;-)
      That is a very powerful point Mike, about mothers and fathers. I always hesitate to say that it’s harder, or more work, or anything that divides the two, but I do believe that it’s very different for mothers and fathers. Your perspective is very good, and well stated. Thanks for sharing! I always look forward to your viewpoint.


  11. Valery says:

    Not all parents feel this way. It seems that every time I’m out in public, I witness parents saying (screaming) the most vile things to their own children. There are far too many children in the world who can’t wait to escape the horrors of their childhood, and far too many parents in the world who can’t wait to get rid of these “burdens”.
    Take pride in your angst – its roots run deep in love. As your children soar on wings you’ve helped them to develop, that love goes with them out into the world. The time and distance between you may be hard to take, but it’s only because you love so deeply. That love will always find a way back to you, one way or another. Growing pains are definitely not just for kids!


    • Thanks Valery! So (sadly) true. I’m afraid I screamed more than I should have, and said things I wish I hadn’t, but I know my kids love me, and they know they are loved as well. Separation is tough, but yes… healthy.


  12. sara says:

    Dawn, you described perfectly the ache and tug of a mother’s heart. My children are only small, but they are preparing us step by step for their eventual flight from us. Even yesterday when my daughter had her first play date unattended by me was a small step towards independence. Like Grippy said – Pity you didn’t raise anxious dependent children…not! Your children sound wonderfully unique and courageous people. Well done 🙂


    • Thanks Sara. Yes, from the time they pick up a sippy cup, until the day they walk out the door, it’s all preparation for something bigger. You just don’t always see it as it happens. The big picture is so easily obscured. Thanks for contributing, and thanks for the kind words. 🙂


  13. Powerful and thought provoking—thank you for the way you put it out there–dang, this whole idea that our kids have a sort of agenda for how ‘they’ want to live–really a cool thought…reminds me t be a guide and to know when to get out of the way—Have you read any MIchael Meade—along with James Hillman, and others, they’re configuring a philosophy, more indigenous then Western, that there is a certain destiny we come into the world with, and the village that raises us is best served by fostering the circumstances which can bring it out.


    • Thanks for stopping by jdawg… even if I had to leave some bread crumbs, it’s fun to share the work. 😉 I haven’t read either of those writers but will keep them in mind. I believe that whether we come with a journey or not, we certainly find one. Parents need to offer a buffet and then accept that our kids might in fact order ala carte. I made my own way, and they are making theirs. It’s a powerful experience to step aside and let them fly. Thanks again for taking the time.


  14. You did such a wonderful job reading this on Saturday. I probably won’t have children, but I often wonder where my nieces and nephew will end up…and I often dream of being the one to take them around the world someday. 🙂


    • Thanks Jolene, much appreciated. It was harder to read aloud than to write. 😉 Never say never, but you’d be a blast to travel with! It would be such a cool adventure to see thew world with the “cool aunt.” Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.



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