I had a good cry this morning. And this afternoon. And this evening. I am facing the reality that in two months my oldest son, Emerson, will graduate from high school. He will finally spread his wings and in August will fly straight to NYC.
Today I found myself wishing I could be more like eagles. When their young are ready to leave the nest the mother eagles will “stir up the nest” and make it uncomfortable for the babies to stay where they are. She will change the composition of the home from a safe, comfortable nest by scratching the soft layer away leaving only rocks and twigs exposed. The discomfort for the babies to stay where they are becomes greater than the fear of flying where they need to be. Something in the mother’s DNA knows when it is time for them to leave. She knows that only by testing their wings will they actually soar. It is instinctual for her to let them go for she knows the strength of those wings will allow her babies to fly even above the storm. They will know not to try to fly through it. They rise above.
There is absolutely nothing instinctual to me about having my child leave home. It goes against every way in which I have been created. Yet this mother’s heart knows Emerson is more than ready. I, however, am not. When he was little I knew that my time with him was fleeting. I savored every moment as if in doing so it would slow down time. It didn’t.
Wasn’t it only yesterday I rocked him to sleep in my arms while singing “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection…”? Surely it was last week he was pushing his little cart through the grocery store. He was my shadow and followed me everywhere, even to the bathroom. Wasn’t it only last month he would proudly collect dandelions from the yard and present me with the most beautiful bouquet ever?
He and I have weathered ferocious storms together. He stayed with me and hospitals several times while his brother laid in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. When his father died a little boy tried to become the man of the house. His self-imposed burden to do so and to be the child with no needs was and is exhausting and I am happy his load will be lightened. I am joyful in knowing that he will begin to become who he was meant to be absent of the every day trials our family faces. Only the pursuit of his dreams awaits my sweet son and this brings me solace even in the midst of grieving.
Unlike his father’s death, though, I see this loss coming. This time I see the mountain in the distance and don’t find myself suddenly at it’s base. We are heading there slowly and steadily and part of me wishes I could just hit the brakes and keep him little forever.
The hardest part of motherhood is not the runny noses and fevers. It is not the temper tantrums and eye rolls. It isn’t the sleepless nights, exhaustion, or endless “to do” lists.
It is in the letting go.
The process of breaking off a piece of my own heart so that my son may be whole is the biggest, most difficult challenge I have faced as a mother. It is necessary and I knew the end goal when I signed up for motherhood. Yet I did not think it would come so soon or so painfully.
Preparing for my son to leave the nest is somewhat like a death. As Christians we believe when our loved ones die they go not just to a better place, they are in Paradise. The sadness we feel, the grief, is for what we miss and for what we lost. We don’t grieve where they are, we grieve that we were left behind. Emerson will be exactly where he belongs. He will discover who he is and begin his quest toward his greatness, whatever that looks like. He will meet new friends and his mind will expand further than he ever imagined. But I will be in the same house and it will be quieter. I will no longer attend functions at the upper school and see the moms I have grown to love over the last 13 years. I will not tap on his door just to say “I love you.” I will not sit at the kitchen table every night dunking cookies in milk and solving the world’s problems with him. Surely, a piece of my heart will be gone.
Parenthood, when done well, is about sacrificial love. It is consistently putting our needs aside and attending to our children. I have eighteen years of learning and growing in sacrificial love. This, however, is the greatest and most painful sacrifice. It is accompanied by excitement in the promises yet to unfold for him but some days those just aren’t enough to keep grief at bay. Days like today it simply hurts. Days like today I feel the breaking of my own heart. Days like today I hate time for going so fast and my powerlessness to stop it. Days like today I can only mourn the letting go.