The View From The Cheap Seats

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When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and in truth you shall see that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran

Selfhood begins with a walking away, and love is proved in the letting go. – C. Day Lewis

I have been away from my blog and my writing for over two months, and I have missed it sorely.

But I have been busy.

In March, our beloved dog Rowdy died, and the house and our lives have just not been the same since.

In May, both of my boys graduated from college – on the very same day, no less. Both were accepted into post-graduate programs, one heading to law school and the other for a Masters in Engineering. To celebrate their graduations, we planned and hosted a massive, throw-down party at our house for 70+ extended family and friends.

April and May went by in a whirlwind of joy, excitement, planning and execution. We were all consumed with the ramp-up (nailing the last semester, passing that capstone class, invitations, robes and hats and cords, caterers, house and yard prep) and then the ramp-down (the BIG clean up).

Throw in at least four business trips, two of them cross-country, and you might get how really tired I feel.

But now that the dust has all settled, I am taking stock and coming back to the writing board. I need to write, because the new landscape that is emerging as the smoke clears is very strange and different to me.

For the past twenty-five years I have had one singular and important job – the role of MOTHER. And not just any mother, mind you, but mother EXTRAORDINAIRE. ‘Helicopter Mom’, ‘Tiger Mom’ – I was often tagged disparagingly as both by friends and family. To some of Ben’s more wayward friends in high school, I was also known as the Anti-Christ, or that Bitch Mrs. Leach. I’m proud of those labels too. What can I say? – If the shoe fits, wear it.

But we made it to the finish line.

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I feel tremendously proud, hugely relieved, and if I am honest, somewhat vindicated. Vindicated that my vigilance, my fierce determination to never give up on them, to always put them front and center, to never let them off the hook, to always demand of them what they were capable of…all that hard work and intensity and singular focus… it was worth it.

Oh Lord, does that sound arrogant and pompous.

I realize my boys can not be compared to some complex project, or to racehorses we groomed for winning. Far, far, far from it. They – and we – made a lot of mistakes. In addition to the potential positive impacts, I’m sure that some of that maternal intensity has left some rather unique scars on my boys that they’ll be dealing with for years.

There is a lot of grace, mystery and just plain chance in raising children. It can so easily go one way or the other – the Dark side, or the Light. But nevertheless, we made our choices, and here we are.

My beautiful ponies are all grown up and off to the races, and the trainer is standing next to an empty pasture.

At the risk of overdoing the analogies, it’s like being relegated to the cheap seats in the theatre after years of front and center placement. Where once I was the director, choreographer, and VIP audience, now I am sitting in the balcony watching the play from the cheap seats. And some other (younger) woman is getting the flowers, the bow, and the kiss.

It’s normal, it’s right, it’s how it’s supposed to be, but damn, this view just plain sucks.

What’s next for this trainer, this director? What fills the void?

On one of my recent business trips to California, I watched a movie called Ride. Helen Hunt both directs and stars in the lead role. She plays an intense, professional single mother whose smart and talented only son pulls away from her, decides not to enter college, and moves from New York to California to take up surfing. She follows him there (her first mistake), and decides to learn to surf (her second mistake). She takes up with her surfing instructor (her third mistake), and asks him – “When you were a twenty-something male, what did you want from your mother?”

His response really stuck with me. He said: “I wanted her to want nothing from me.”

This is not a great movie, I wouldn’t recommend it, but there is a powerful lesson there in those eight small words.

What do adult children want from their parents? How do you parent them?

No expectations, no demands. No butting in. No following behind with the crop or the clipboard. No advice from the sidelines. Just unconditional love, and definitely some money when they need it. No demands, and certainly no messy, embarrassing parental neediness.

That’s a very tall order for this helicopter mom.

I am spending my time these days thinking critically about who and what I will be in this brave, new world. Who am I, when I take off the backpack I have carried for twenty-five years, and empty it of the tools and props that have defined my singular story? What do I want to define as my new role, my new intention for the future? I have to admit that I feel sort of listless, uninspired and just plain tired at the moment. There are many options, many possibilities, but so far nothing shines quite as brightly as the work of raising my boys.

I took an on-line ‘ancient elements’ personality test today. As on-line tests goes, this was pretty good. It combines ancient theories such as the Four Temperaments and the Four Cardinal Virtues as well as modern theories such as the Myers Briggs (MBTI) and the Enneagram. Of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, I apparently am Fire. Fire is the active, focused and goal oriented element. Fire needs a goal, a direction, a dream to pursue. Fire is passion, and apathy is a foreign concept to it. “Just like physical fire without fuel turns to ash, so Fiery people can sink into deep, restless depression when they lose their drive and have no dream and no goal to pursue.”

Some mothers I know have entered this post-parenting phase effortlessly and enthusiastically, diving into a new career, or a new creative passion. It signals beautiful, blessed FREEDOM to them, and they shrug off that old backpack and outdated role with what seems like no qualms or hesitancy.

For me, it’s not that easy, but I’m working on it.

I have a friend, a therapist, who is helping me learn how to envision new possibilities. She tells me that you should ask the universe each day for a lesson, and then open to accept it with grace and ease.

My current lesson is learning to love more, and in a new way, by letting go, a little more each day.

It may take a while, but I’m confident this FIRE woman won’t stay apathetic for too long.

I would love to hear from those of you who are mothers of grown children on this challenge. How did you make the transition? Was it easy or hard? Was it different if you are the mother or boys or of girls? What lessons did you learn that you can share?

2 thoughts on “The View From The Cheap Seats

  1. Both of my kids are now in their 40’s. Letting them go and allowing them to get to where they were going was hard. I still have moments when the old boss in me wants to tell them what to do. But not doing so is actually a great relief. Their mistakes and their victories are now their own, which leaves me proud of them either way. The lessons learned go both with the losses and the gains. That’s what the school of life is all about and in the aging process, I’ve discovered that I have my own row to hoe and lessons still to learn.

    No it isn’t easy, but being a fiery person, you will grow tired of worrying about your boys’ every move and begin to taste the freedom that is now yours to do with as you please. Fly high and always take your camera!

  2. What “jzrart” said!

    Jeri, it’s hard. Hard when they are in their 20s. Hard as they move into their 30s. Even hard sometimes when they are even older. Your role will keep changing (becoming a grandmother brings you back closer but in a new way and new role – and you have to learn to navigate it — loving the little beings and NOT being the parent). I love how Anna Quindlen describes it: “Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor. We are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us, but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”

    But it also opens up new possibilities — a newly energized and changing relationship with that man you married so many years ago; a chance to try new careers, new skills, new challenges, a chance to explore new interests. And you always have the joy of what you have shared with your children when they were part of your household.

    A favorite verse of mine has been “Comes the Dawn” (Veronica Shoffstall)

    After a while, you learn the subtle difference
    Between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
    And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
    And company doesn’t mean security,
    And you begin to understand that kisses aren’t promises,
    And you begin to accept your defeats
    With your head held high and your eyes open,
    With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
    You learn to build your roads
    On today because tomorrow’s ground
    Is too uncertain for plans, and futures have
    A way of falling down in mid-flight.
    After a while you learn that even sunshine
    Burns if you get too much.
    So you plant your own garden and decorate
    Your own soul, instead of waiting
    For someone to bring you flowers.
    And you learn that you really can endure,
    That you really are strong,
    And you really do have worth.
    And you learn and learn . . . and you learn
    With every goodbye you learn.

    Be kind to yourself. You’ve already started to “plant your own garden and decorate your own soul” — and your new flowers will blossom in time.

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