I’ve been avoiding writing these words for quite some time now, not because the words are so difficult to write; but because the truth behind the words is so difficult to process.
With four children there is never a shortage of “firsts” and “lasts.” We remember their first steps and first dates; last diaper and last night in a crib; first time riding a bike or driving a car. But, this season of “first and lasts” in our household, feels different to me somehow. My oldest son just bought his first house, and left for work from our home for the last time. My middle two sons will be starting their first year of college, and last year of high school respectively. And as the last moments of summer tick away, my youngest son will soon be starting his first year of high school.
Like I said… difficult to process.
Why Busy Doesn’t Work
So, all summer I did a really good job of stuffing my emotions somewhere down deep in the pit of my stomach and focused instead on staying busy. We traveled to the mountains and the beach and watched tons of baseball games. We binge watched Netflix shows and Marvel movies. We had bonfires and pool hangs. We talked nonstop about starting at a new school, living on your own and making good choices. There have been many enthusiastic house, school and dorm room shopping trips. I’m sure my credit card could use a break.
With a smile plastered on my face through it all, I knew I was good. In control. Emotions in check. Handling all this change like a champ. Wow, I thought, I am really holding it together exceptionally well. Let me just give myself a silent high-five.
That was, until this morning. I was sitting at my bathroom vanity putting on makeup when suddenly, out of nowhere, my stomach started to churn. It was a familiar feeling and I froze. Oh no, I thought. Not now. Not today. I’d been doing so well.
There I was, staring into my cotton ball jar when I could feel the tears starting to well up. I blinked as fast as I could and waved my hands frantically in front of my face. I tried to apply my mascara, non-waterproof mascara by the way, which just turned into racetracks on my cheeks. Because while the tears started sliding down slowly at first, they quickly gained speed. And then I went into the ugly cry with drippy snot and all. When my husband asked if everything was okay, I just started crying harder. Wailing that probably could have won me an Oscar.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
I don’t know what triggered the onslaught of emotion today. It was a perfectly, beautiful, sunny morning. But I suppose logic, and history, knew this day would come eventually. I’ve always been a bit of a sap, known to cry at Hallmark movies and Folgers commercials. But something was different today.
As parents, it’s our goal and job to raise our children into confident, successful, happy, faith-filled adults. And as I look at my own boys, I really couldn’t be a prouder Momma. These are all very exciting milestones and it is an exciting time for all of us.
But it is also important to acknowledge the range of other emotions all these first and lasts evoke: sadness, regret, fear, uncertainty, heartache. I’ve had to acknowledge that my role as mom is changing and boundaries are being redefined. It’s different. It’s new. It feels a little like grieving. And. It. Is. Hard.
But it’s also okay. Or rather, it will be okay.
Embrace Your Emotions, and Your Kids
Social media doesn’t help. In fact, pressure can come in the form of those perfectly framed photos of the first day of school, or college visits, or move in days. Everyone is smiling or laughing. What’s not captured, however, is any of the inner angst, or sweat in the moments leading up to that picture.
Sometimes the advice of our well-meaning friends doesn’t help. I have many empty-nester friends that have told me, “You’ll love your new life.” “You’ll get to do everything you haven’t had time for up till now.” “Think of all the free time you’ll have.” “Life is amazing.” Two problems with this. First, um, I’m not an empty-nester yet. I still have 2 children at home. And second, I’m just not there… yet. In fact, thinking of all the free time I’m going to have, is freaking me out a bit.
The truth is, all parents struggle with change. We’ve all been there. This inner camaraderie, is comforting to know and lean into, both when I have it all together, and when I don’t. So, when you see another parent, give them a slight nod, a faint smile, or a knowing glance that communicates to them they are not alone, they are not crazy, and all of this is okay. Or rather, it will be.
I’m going to be gentler to myself, riding each new wave of emotion like a professional surfer. Wearing my children’s milestones and the accompanying bathroom meltdown, like a badge of honor. (I must be a highly decorated officer by now.) No one, including my kids, expects me to have it all together all the time; so, let me just lift that expectation off my shoulders now so I can breathe a little easier.
I’m gonna try to take all this change in stride, like I have for the past 22 years – with one moving box, one carpool drop-off, one last, first day of school photo, at a time.
Oh no. Not again…Someone please pass the tissues.