My son didn’t want the suitcase I put out for him. I thought it would be convenient, put out a suitcase and just drop in things as we found what needed to go to his dorm room. He had different ideas, and he didn’t want that ratty old suitcase. It will go to the dump. And I need to back off. He sorted his bedroom things when I wasn’t looking, putting away his treasures into the new under-bed storage bin that we purchased. I’d pictured going through them together, me helping him figure out what to keep and what to let go. But this is better. He is owning his life in a way that matters. He’s leaving two shelves of things in the closet. He’s also leaving things in the dresser. For both locations I have instructions to leave them alone. And I will. He may discover he wants some of them later. Or maybe he won’t. I left things with my parents when I went off to school. So did his older sister.
He did let me fish out half a dozen pairs of worn out or discarded shoes from the back of his closet. He took a picture before I put them into a box to be donated/discarded. I stood there, box in hand and watched him for a moment. The weight of leaving his old life behind rounded his shoulders a bit. I could see it in his face as well, but for once I did not dig or try to get him to tell me about it. His internal world needs to stop being my job. It is me he needs to get away from, because the patterns of childhood are too strong for both of us. I’ve spent so long being his helper, translator, guide that I don’t know how to stop. And he can’t become the adult he needs to be unless I stop. Which is why he needs to move out.
I’ve sent a child off to school before, you’d think the practice would make this easier. I should know how to step off the stage of my child’s life and lurk in the wings. I don’t get to be a player any more, except for emergency need. Why didn’t I recognize that this was the transition ahead of us? Surely I should have recognized the push-pull of the past few weeks and been less thrown by it. Now I suspect that each launching will be its own kind of difficult. Each child struggling and growing in their own way, and me thrown off balance in unique ways for each one. This shouldn’t surprise me since they’ve been different from each other since day one. We’re right on the brink, ready to launch, only two more days at home, then we drop him off.
I don’t know how it works, and it isn’t guaranteed to always work, but somehow Christmas is beautiful and peaceful even when the run of days up to it are an emotional roller coaster. When I view the day through the lens of my religious beliefs, the day is blessed. It is specifically granted an extra measure of peace, particularly when I’ve been praying for exactly that. From a more earthly viewpoint, Christmas is a collaborative creation of all the participants. We create it for each other, and in a house where people have been thinking and planning carefully for weeks, the creation is beautiful.
Christmas comes as a candle flame in dark midwinter. It brings light and warmth. And it never hurts to have a cat to oversee the unwrapping.
I used to check on my babies when they were sleeping, when things had been quiet for a while, before I could sleep. I would step quietly up to the crib and stand there until I could see the rise and fall of their breathing. Sometimes I would reach out and touch, just to be sure. Carefully, of course, because I didn’t want to wake the baby and trigger another round of tending-to-infant-needs. Their sleep was a blessed respite for me, but I still had to check and make sure they were okay.
That impulse has never fully left. I still listen for the sounds of my children. A part of my brain tracks their locations and their safety. Occasionally, I still peek in on them when they are sleeping. Partly I’m checking to make sure the sixteen year old isn’t pulling another all-night you-tube fest on a school night. No lights from screens are in her room, so I step in and let my eyes adjust to the dark until I see her breathe. She is safe. All is well.
Happiness is simple for an infant. If a parent can accomplish breathing and not-crying then what is left is interest and joy. The older the children get, the more complex their internal worlds become. And the less I am able to make sure they’re okay. Checking on the kids requires talking and listening. I have to listen to what they say and infer what they don’t say. Sometimes I know that they are hurting and often there is nothing I can do to heal it. Sometimes what I have to do is not interfere because making them safe prevents them from learning or growing. But it means that there are days I stand outside a teenager’s closed door and wish I could “check for breathing” in a way that quickly ascertains the total well being of the person who shut me out.
We don’t always know that we have expectations about things until they unfold differently than expected. I never once sat down to picture my daughter’s last days of college. I certainly would not have pictured me spending two nights camping on her apartment floor so that I can assist with final clean up and, more importantly, function as an emotional support for a young woman with a raging head cold who has to face the final exam for a class that has thrice given her massive, can’t-breathe, panic attacks. My daughter has become so thoroughly adult in the way she faces her troubles, that I have to tell her it is okay to get some hand-holding right at the last exhausting bit.
The walls of the apartment bedroom are bare now. We took down the posters and the forest of stick-on wall hooks that used to host hats, calendars, whiteboards, and other life paraphernalia. What remains are white walls and a pile of boxes in the corner, each labeled with where they will go to be unpacked once we’re at home. My house is “home” now when she speaks. For a long time “home” was her college existence, but now it is my house again. I’ll be glad to fold her back into the patterns of our family.
For two weeks I’ll have all four, then we’ll launch our son who is desperate to find a home that isn’t my house. My house isn’t home to him, he tells me. I nod and understand that emotionally and developmentally this statement is exactly as it should be. I save my crying for when he is not around to see it. I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life sacrificing to create a safe and nurturing home for my children to grow inside. I know that pushing off and pushing away is necessary. I still stagger a bit from the force of it.
I didn’t picture sleeping on an apartment floor. And I didn’t picture being told “this isn’t my home.” I didn’t picture a teenager with scratched up arms. I didn’t picture home schooling.
I also didn’t picture a teenage daughter who squees out loud with delight over her pet snake and little growing plants. I didn’t picture the way that my oldest tousles the hair of my youngest, or the way he puts up with this irritation because his sister can get away with it. I didn’t picture the comfort of warm hugs from sons who are half again larger than I am. I didn’t picture the hundred daily ways that Howard and I look out for each other and support each other.
I wonder what I did expect since the vast majority of my life seems like a surprise to me.
Tomorrow by 1pm all the boxes will be in the car and the three hour drive will begin. It will be the last fetching-home-from-college for this daughter. We’ll all come back for the graduation ceremony in spring, but that will be a vacation trip, not a life-altering transition. We’ll disperse her belongings and mingle them with our household. She’ll have a safe haven while she builds toward her next launch. But first she gets to rest. We have a holiday to navigate, and some shared family experiences to create. Two weeks of welcome home and farewell mixed in holiday colors.
Once I’m home, I’m back in the middle of it, so there is a part of me that is grateful for the space and distance created by waiting in my daughter’s apartment while she completes finals. I made plans for how to use the space. I may still do so, but the largest part of today went to sleeping. I can only partly blame the too-thin foam mat which disrupted my sleep last night. I arrived tired. It is not a waste to use time for sleeping. I have to remind myself of that.
I will be glad to go home. I will settle back in to my regular round of comforts and obligations. I will sit on my couch and stare at the bare studs of an incomplete construction project. I will make plans for getting that project complete, or for earning the money to pay for the project to be completed. I will plan for Christmas and for taking my son shopping to outfit his dorm room. I will plan for home schooling next year. I will plan for cleaning and cooking in advance of the holiday.
And, inevitably, my plans will not turn out as I expected. I will adapt and learn to be happy with things as they are even when they’re not how I thought they would be.
The first half of December breaks my brain. I know this. It happens every year. I blame it on the holiday shipping, and it is true that I ship out ten times more packages per day than at other times of the year. However it is also that I’m holding in my head all the holiday gift planning. I’m deciding whether or not to do Christmas cards or neighbor gifts. If I do them, I have to select recipients since I know and care about more people than I have the time or resources to give individual attention to.
This year I’m responding to some of the stress by doing a culling of belongings. Every thing I give away is a thing that I will never have to track, clean, or pay attention to again. And we really do need to pare back in advance of our hoped-for remodeling next year. (We desperately want to do the remodel, we don’t know if we’ll be able to fund it.) I’m working on carload #4 that is bound for thrift stores.
And then there is the emotional sorting. My oldest is moving home to stay. My second oldest is moving out and says he doesn’t think he’ll ever move back, which may be true. As part of his moving out, he’s doing some of the emotional push-pull on his parents that many kids do when they’re preparing to launch. It throws me off balance. And then off balance again when I realize that my third child is sinking into depression again, the kind that gently seeps the joy and interest out of everything. So she and I have to do something about that, but neither of us knows what yet. My youngest has one week to do enough work to prevent failing in one of his classes. His home school needs do not slack off even with holiday shipping. Though we’ve made a decision to take a break from all school things when on campus classes cease. We need a space free from tracking.
There are half a dozen blog entries I’ve partially written about the things summarized in that last paragraph. I can’t seem to clear enough head space to find the words. Instead I’m left with a day like today where I don’t want to waste the day, but I don’t have enough energy to dive into a project. I wish I did have that energy. There are so many projects that need done.
Number of days ago that the assignment was due: 27
Number of times I sat down with my son to attempt to do the assignment: 4
Number of times son attempted to communicate with the teacher: 5
Number of answers we got from the teacher: 2
Number of times that the teacher’s answers provided the necessary clarification: 0
Number of frustrated conversations with my son where we try to figure out why his brain locks up and literally won’t allow him to write any words: 3
Number of words written as of this morning: 0
Reasons why I’m worn out: all of the above + 1 teen girl whose depression is intruding again + son who moves out in three weeks and is having emotions about it. Also see holiday preparations and financial stress.
My day started out well, but around noon I started to feel muddled and unfocused. I had trouble concentrating and I couldn’t find my notebook. Several years back I adopted a one notebook approach to journaling. Any type of notes I need to write down all go into the same book. So scribbled notes about merchandise for Schlock mystery boxes sit right across from an extended journal entry where I’m sorting my brain. It is a system that has worked fairly well for me. Of course there is one significant drawback, as evidenced when I couldn’t find the book today. I’ve never truly lost one of my notebooks before. I might be uncertain where exactly I placed it, but I can usually lay my hands on it in five minutes or less. My brain knows the book is important and does a good job of indexing when and where I set it down. Today I couldn’t find it. I did my usual finding steps, and it didn’t turn up. I even drove over to the warehouse, but it wasn’t there either. I had a clear memory of using it on the day I took my daughter back to school, but not since then. I’d forgotten that I spent a portion of Tuesday sitting with Howard in his office and apparently left the notebook there.
Even with notebook in hand, I still felt a bit muddled so I went and took a shower. That was when I realized why. My head was full of a dozen sorting and organization projects. Trying to hold all of them and prioritize them and their steps was breaking my brain. So I flipped open my (thankfully located) notebook and began to write. Two pages of closely written notes later, I feel much more clear. The amount of organizing I’ve outlined is enough for several months. But now that it is all on the page, I can see which projects need to come before other projects. Hopefully that will be enough to let me get started. Unfortunately many of them are out in my unheated garage, and it is December. But I need to get at least some of them done because I need to re-locate the Christmas decoration storage to the garage instead of taking up space in my daughter’s closet.
It isn’t convenient that my brain picked now to mentally reorganize all of the things. We’ve just hit the big shipping season. As people are purchasing for the holidays I end up shipping out 10-20 packages per day. I’m grateful for every package I send out. They pay for January and February bills. Sending them takes time. I also have layout and design work for publishing projects. Those things have to come first, no matter how much my brain wants to just dive into organizing all the things. I may be able to sneak in both, but it means I need to be motivated and get moving first thing Monday morning. And I need to not allow home school to sap all of my project energy. While simultaneously not allowing home school to slump and not get done. It’s going to be a busy week.
I had a women’s lunch today with extended family. It was hosted by the woman who is the closest thing I have to a mother-in-law. She’s the woman who all but adopted Howard’s younger brothers after their mother died. And while she was adopting people she extended that adoption to Howard even though he was already in college. At least once per year she hosts this lunch to gather daughters and daughters-in-law so we can sit around a table and catch up. I love these lunches. I love these women. They’re so good, and work so hard serving their families and communities. We went round the table giving a summary of how all our kids are doing and a status report on our lives. There is no pressure or competition to make our kids sound good. In fact, we’re just as likely to spend time talking about the struggle we’re having with a particular child mixed in with loving descriptions of why that child is amazing (and driving us crazy).
Most of the women are stay-at-home mothers with husbands who earn the household income. I might be the only exception to that. In other years I’ve included information about my work in my status report. This year it was nice to be in a space where I could set work aside and just talk about my kids in detail to people who were actually interested in all those details. I’d had a similar realization talking to a friend only a day earlier. My brain is filled up with minutia about my children and most of my conversations aren’t appropriate venues for airing that minutia. It was incredibly healing both yesterday and today to share a small detail and to have the listeners react in a way that shows they know exactly what that small detail means to me in my life. They rejoice for my kids accomplishments and grieve for their struggles because they know and love my kids. Professional spaces don’t give me that validation, not about parenting. And parenting spaces don’t comprehend how to validate my professional pursuits.
After the lunch was over, I thought about all the things we shared across the table. There were so many similarities between our children and their struggles. Possible solutions were offered and ideas were exchanged. I realized that what I’d attended was a small-scale professional conference between women who take their parenting seriously. Networking between parents is every bit as critical as networking between professionals working in the same field. Sometimes the village necessary to help raise our children is right around us, other times we have to seek it out and work to maintain it. Naturally this lunch was also a meeting of family, women who have known each other for decades. We have watched each other grow up, get married, manage toddlers, and now begin launching oldest kids into adulthood. These are my sisters though I have no genetic relation to any of them. I’m so grateful to my friend, the adopted sort-of-mother-in-law who knows it is important to schedule these annual lunches.
My 16 year old has developed an interest in plants. She is truly enjoying watering green things and watching them grow. The one problem she has is that there is only so much space on her windowsill and desk.
There might also be a desk clutter problem, but the widow sill is only four inches wide and thus can only accommodate a few plants. And if you take a closer look at the sill, it is plastic.
I’m fairly confident that the original builder of this house was going for inexpensive rather than durable or beautiful. The plastic has yellowed, stained, warped, and cracked. I decided to replace it with hard wood. So I spent a week sanding and staining a board. total cost for the board and stain $15. I picked a glossy stain so the finished board would easily stand up to water spillage from plants. Once my board was ready, I removed the plastic widow sill. And I discovered Styrofoam glued to the window framing.
I was able to easily pry up the Styrofoam, except for spots where the glue was so bonded to the wood beneath it might as well have been cement.
But the glue spots were fairly flat, so I could just install the new sill on top of them. And I did.
There are now ten inches of space on which she can arrange plants and other decorative items. We’ve moved the desk back into place (much cleaner now.) The plants will get to move into their new home as soon as the caulk dries. And now a small corner of our house is prettier than it was before.
Functionally I have three teenagers in my house. One is twenty years old and has a common autistic pattern of asynchronous development, which means chronologically he’s twenty, but in many social and emotional ways he’s in his mid teens. He’s the one I’ll be launching into a residential program in January, which has the similar life weight as heading off for college. We’re riding the push-pull emotional roller coaster of a child who wants more independence than he’s quite ready for and who doesn’t want to learn from his mom anymore. The other two are chronologically teens, but they struggle with some mental health issues which have pushed them into self awareness and communication skills that are beyond their years. They are often puzzled or frustrated by the behavior of “typical” teenagers. (I put typical in scare quotes, because it only exists statistically. No individual you examine will ever be completely typical.) I’m very grateful for the growing self awareness of my two youngest and I hope that the twenty year old is able to develop something similar using his neuro-atypical thought processes.
Parenting these three is a significant time commitment right now. Particularly since the various atypicalities have pushed us into a partial homeschooling arrangement. Their best learning paths require both on campus time and some classes done at home. I don’t have to create curriculum, but I do have to be the enforcer of schedule and the organizer of assignments. Lately I’ve been an exercise buddy for my son who is doing a PE class. Thirty minutes of walking every day for two weeks. The walking is good for me because I need more exercise. It is good to spend time with him just talking about all of the things. He’s good company. I can see all the ways these exercise requirements are forcing him to face some personal demons as well as get him up from his computer. The home school stuff is being really good, and is obviously the right educational pathway for us right now. But the mental effort I expend on it can be exhausting.
Parenting is tiring. This isn’t news. And I’ll definitely take the fatigue of assisting my child’s growth over the despairing weariness of watching my child getting smaller and more depressed. I guess I’m just pausing to acknowledge that I’m tired and that parenting is using up much of the creative space that opened up when Planet Mercenary stopped demanding full attention.