Mom, Maybe this finds you driving home from a campus.
Or dropping them off at an airport because all they wanted was a gap year across the country – or the world.
It might be your first, last or only child.
Either way, you’re crossing a threshold that we don’t often talk about: launching into adulthood.
Like, passing from one world to another.
Logically, we’re happy. We WANTED this day. We are DONE. No more conflict, biting our tongue, wondering if we’ve done enough, or buying extra snacks in case friends come over after school.
I did this two years ago when Jordan wanted to do a gap year in Los Angeles. He returned a year later. But now he’s returning to the west coast, giving me a three week notice.
Having been through this before, and walking this with you again, I want to tell you a few things so you don’t feel crazy or like there’s something wrong with you. Hardly.
After the initial tears and get-on-with-the-day, there’s this morning of waking up and it’s one less voice in the house. You might cry at breakfast because you know exactly how to make their eggs and they aren’t here.
Maybe you need to pull the car over because you realized you passed their school.
Or as you make dinner, it’s ok if you need to use the dishtowel because tissues can’t hold the tears when you realize it’s. Every. Single. Dinner. that you won’t be making for them again.
You may find yourself vacuuming just to stay busy and remembering all the times you thought an empty house is what you wanted– and now you want them back.
And you can’t have them back.
So you think about when you’ll see them next- holidays or breaks. Or go visit.
But I need to warn you.
You’ll need a minute to know them again. Because they’ll have outgrown the image in your heart of them at age 5 or 9 or 14 or even 18.
So we can’t have them back as we knew them.
Or the season of mothering we just walked through.
This deserves the honor of tears. Because you, momma, did an unspeakably amazing job and they are flying. Solo. Without you. As you’ve been planning on for nearly two decades.
Now, they carry you with them- your wit and intelligence and height.
And you carry them in every cell of your heart.
The thing is, there most likely will be this unexpected day where you feel like you are on an elevator going down. And you won’t know what to do.
Or what you’re supposed to do.
But I have a few ideas and I’m hoping you’ll join me as we walk this one together. Ok?
Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt @unsplash
We’re going to feel into the new normal. They were our world and our world is somewhere else. And it can feel disembodying. So we will let it. And we’ll cry.
We’ll take a week to decide if going in their room is possible or not. Or a month to figure out if we really want dinner at 6pm when there’s no soccer practice at 7pm.
Together, we will resist texting them more than once in a day.
And we pinky swear to never ever ask them if they’re eating well, who their friends are or what grade they got on an exam. We will let them carve the life with all the trust and elbow room they need.
Maybe we’ll find some cards and send notes to their friends that are no longer coming over laughing and playing their music.
And we’ll resist zoning out on screens – we told them to be in the real world, and now we need this reminder.
So we’ll journal. Or find the photos we took for so many years.
We’ll go through the scrapbooks or boxes – this is why we saved that favorite shirt when he was 7 for. Or her baby teeth. Or their kindergarten handprints. This is the “one day” we saved it for.
We’re honoring all that we walked.
And when we can’t breathe we’ll go outside, and let the sun and air and sky breathe for us.
Together, we’re going to trust the emotional wave only lasts 2-12 minutes… apparently, the longer the wave, the bigger the dish towel to cry into. I found that sitting with it, and not distracting myself even though it all seems bigger than me- that it’s not bigger than me.
Or you. That you are equal to it.
And with a little prayer, maybe even bigger than the waves we thought would overtake us.
The secret is, leaning in and grieving instead of distraction and numbing, means we will find our new life.
Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt @unsplash
One day, the tears will be only sometimes – usually at bedtime because they aren’t there to say goodnight.
And maybe we’ll decide that we want big lunches and tiny dinners.
And we’ll have extra money to buy that pricey bar of chocolate the one with the chili in it perfectly grounded.
And maybe we’ll cry because no one is there to share it or a spouse doesn’t understand. But just for a bit.
And maybe the Monet exhibit is still on at the art museum and we can read every.single.description.
A month will pass by and the iphone photos are starting to build a life that is very different from the previous one.
But look – you took selfies of you smiling and maybe even some with your spouse or boyfriend or kids that are home and it counts.
At some point we may look through clothes and wonder how long we’ve had the sweats that don’t have a drawstring anymore- and now there’s time and money to go find a new pair without getting stuck at the mall for hours.
Maybe you realize can get one drink at Starbucks and not one for everyone.
Or you start to think about a trip you wanted to take. Or the divorce you wanted. Or the fully stocked bar you always dreamed of. Or the new boyfriend you now deserve. And I’m asking you to wait. Just wait. Get on the other side of loss. Finish honoring one season before charging into the next one. Of course you’re an adult and can do what you want. But loss is a wild friend, that plays hide and seek and pounces when you thought it was over. And you’ll think you’re fine, really. You’re not crying all.the.time anymore. You’re good. And I offer to wait just a little longer…
How long do you wait? As long as it takes until you can talk about your child, go in their room, wash their sheets, and not cry while doing it. …until you can remember how they used to jump on the bed and you yelled for them to stop, and not cry thinking about it. ….until you can go through the family photos- and remember how you fought depression for so long and realize no one would ever know because the only thing you see now is the love. And you’ll really know it’s time when you see it’s 9pm, and decide to take a bath and read a book and not cry because the house is so quiet- with no tears.
Because here’s the other secret- (pinky swear).
Photo courtesy of Shalom Mwenesi @ unsplash
They will come back. And your heart will breathe again, but a little differently. And they’ll need a minute to recognize you because you have a life without them. You aren’t yelling or frazzled or hurrying to pack lunches at 9pm at night. You have time to talk to them. And listen. And laugh again. And realize that you were the mom you always hoped you were. And so much more. Because the person sitting before you is stunning. And grown and growing. And you recognize them completely, and parts you are longing to rediscover and learn. And you thought you couldn’t love them more and now you realize you can and do. And that they are so much more than you ever dreamed. Because they demanded you to be so much more than you ever thought – and after 18 years you are that amazing.
You will feel into the next ebb and flow of breaks and summers and visits and perfectly imperfect Christmases where you decide no tree because you’re tired and they want one anyway and they will put it up for you.
Photo courtesy of Priscilla du Preez-@ unsplash
But it all depends on you leaning in. Letting loss and grief mix with honor and grace for the life you had, and the season you sacrificially loved beyond yourself. Because when you build a life from that place, you have the life you really do deserve- one you built with love.
And maybe now, instead of that divorce, its counseling or a separation. Instead of that new fully stocked bar, it’s a girls night out once a week. And maybe now truly full speed ahead for the boyfriend (***raising my hand). Because as life settles, you’ll only have space for what is a high act of love for your life. Because now it is about you, and from a place of love, not fear and loss and grief. And you have honored your season and know the worth and weight of your life in tears, sleepless nights, and laughter. And you move into this next phase, may it be with grace, and courage and a wild knowing that although you can’t hug them every day, they are still your world.
Photo courtesy of William Montou @unsplash
_____ Additional Resources_______
In case you need a few resources, here are a few go-to’s:
Rock CoverGirl waterproof eyeliner and mascara for about 30 days after goodbye. Trust me. The little bar towels from Target are perfectly soft and absorbent for hours of ugly cries. Of course you can contact me to help. If you can’t get on top of the crying after a few weeks, please find a counselor – your life deserves support.
#whentheyleaveforagapyear #gapyear #parentingteenagers #whentheyleaveforschool #goingtocollege