Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Think You're in Control? Think Again.

I was talking with a friend over coffee the other morning. We share a common situation in that both of our eldest children have gone off to college this fall. It's a new experience for us, and one we acknowledge as bittersweet. It's great to have someone to make this parallel journey with me.

At one point Deb said, "I realized this last time that he's never really coming home again." Simple statement, but wow, did that pack a punch. She's right. She put words to this feeling I've had every time I've seen Max since he moved out in August: He will visit and find his comfort here, but he will never truly come home again.

There was a time not too long ago when this thought would have sent me reeling. Max is, after all, the child of mine I have spent the most time with. I had 3 1/2 years of him to myself, and he had those same years of not having to share me. He was the king and I was his queen, he told me when he was three years old. "What's Daddy?" I naively asked. "Sadly," my little boy replied, "he's just a knight." And truly, that about summed it up. Max has always been my kid. We belonged together.

But to go from literally wearing your child in a sling on your chest or hip and co-sleeping with him to nervously watching him navigate playground equipment to getting a quick kiss goodbye as he heads out the door with friends to hugging him one last time as he tells you it's time to leave so he can organize his dorm (and for the record, I'm not sure he's done that yet, two months into the school year) is a veritable lifetime. It is a constant push and pull, a see-saw, at times a merry-go-round that doesn't feel so merry. In fact, the older I get, the more that motion makes me want to vomit.

So when reality kicks me in the ass as Deb utters her observation, I look to the heavens (I do that whenever I'm in the midst of an epiphany, which seems to be quite often these days) and recognize the raw truth in that proclamation. And I instantly think how natural that idea feels to me now. Of course he won't come home. Of course he's a visitor. That's how it should be.

And, given all the other changes in my life as of late, I thought about how the idea of natural progression translates to each of those circumstances. For instance, I am now the only parent living in this house with my three remaining kids. I'm it. If it gets done, I do it. If it needs paying for, I pay it. If someone's yelling, it's probably me. If it warrants a laugh, I'm the one doubled over, gasping for air and worried that I'll wet myself because I can't control my snorting. I am Woman.

And it feels right. In my gut and in my mind, this living with my children alone is the way it should be. For now. I can't know what the future may bring, and I'm not concerned about it. I actually haven't ever been too adept at looking far ahead. I can plan about a month in advance and that's about as good as it gets. I have always been a live for the moment girl, and that life plan so many of my peers grew up with in their heads? It never existed for me. Made for a life of surprises, but it also afforded me surprising flexibility and the attitude of "OK, so this is where we are. Let's do this thing." As a result, I've got four kids who aren't rattled by much. If you know them, you know the boys are so laid back you have to check them for a pulse. And the girls have sunny dispositions (though at 12, Tavi is more often at turns dramatic and brooding these days).

Then there's my new book. For over a year, the research and writing of that book consumed my work schedule. Published in late September, the book has garnered a lot of interest in our region and beyond, into Montana and Utah. As a result, I am traveling to promote the book through book signings and slide presentations. It's an unexpected pleasure. But it's a nightmare logistically in terms of figuring out how to do that aspect of my job and see that my kids are taken care of. And that's a worry I never had before. I've always been home. I work where I live. Now I go on the road and hope I've instilled in my kids the security to know they can step up and take care of at least some of their needs on their own. I hope they use common sense when making choices that I'm not around to help support or discourage. I hope...that I've done my job as their mom well.

But even this, this traveling and separating from my kids now and then--this too, feels right. It's exactly what I should be doing. And I find solace in that knowledge. It's a new day. Wes and I are no longer together; Max has moved out; the family that was 6 is now 4 and we're finding our way. It's not always easy, but it's also not too challenging. And I chalk that up to the idea that this is so because it is right.

At the end of the day, we aren't in control. We can make choices and decisions. We can exercise free will and live with the consequences. But to believe we are in control is an illusion. Once I accepted that idea--and I had to grieve the death of my child before I could--so much of life became opportunity. For joy, growth, learning, celebrating.

Change is inevitable. What we do in the face of it makes all the difference in the world. It's kind of like giving birth: You go through intense pain at times, but the reward is so uncompromisingly fabulous that the pain is becomes a distant memory.

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