Monday, August 19, 2019

Ready or Not (Mom), Here She Comes!


We move Margaret into her dorm on Friday.

Today, instead of taking her to lunch and exhorting her to never swim in a quarry, to keep her drink with her at all times, and to attend any and all goofy activities her RA sets up, I am sitting at McDonald's with Andrew enjoying a 59 cent cone. People ask how I'm coping with Margaret, my original "baby", heading off to school. But the truth is, I haven't been able to focus on what I'm feeling, at least not yet, because I'm in the day-to-day of keeping up with an active 3 year old during what surely is the word's longest preschool break.

I am processing neither Margaret's imminent departure nor the fact that the nest I always thought would be empty as of Sept 2019 is full-ish again. Questions like-- "Who am I now? What is it like to parent a young-adult, when I never had the chance to have an adult mother/daughter relationship? Will I be able to do the dorm move-in for Andrew when I'm 65?"-- all remain unexamined. No, I'm just doing the thing. And the thing seems to be snuggling on the couch with too much Netflix, reminding Andrew to un-clench when I wipe his bottom, and an awful lot of playing with the garden hose.

It makes me think of when Jack died, almost 8 years ago. My very first thoughts in those terrifying moments turned to the need to make Margaret feel safe. To showing my sadness but also my strength (what strength?) so she wouldn't think I would disappear too. I didn't check out. I drove to every soccer practice, marveling that the other parents would even let their kids drive with me, when inside I felt so utterly unhinged, each telephone pole taunting me with sweet relief if only I would steer into it. My love for and my responsibility toward Margaret kept me going. And things got better. Much, much better.

I'm NOT comparing college drop-off to the death of a child, but rather pondering whether being busy and focused on other things is healthy, or whether it's just one more way of covering up, rather than exploring one's feelings. I don't know any other way. Just as I was glad when college classes started up soon after my mom died, I was grateful Margaret's needs were too ever-present to ignore. I was grateful to have to go to work to try to stimulate my brain. Keeping busy with Andrew, which can feel both soul-sucking and life-giving, hasn't left much room to consider my girl's latest chapter even though it is right upon us.

But then I remember it didn't all go unexamined, in the face of responsibility, busy-ness, and gaping need. Late nights with you and this laptop were where I did most of my processing those years ago, and I'm grateful you are here with me now.

21 comments:

Kymberly Seabolt said...

Beautiful truth.

Ann said...

Anna,I personally think we can process and ponder our feelings in the mist of the business of life. It's not an escape as much as it is just living the reality of a busy life. The fact that you can function while processing and pondering ... well, that is a good sign that you are processing and pondering. My heart is with you as you send Margaret off on the next chapter in her life. Life is so complicated and wonderful and hard all at the same time. You've got this. xoxo

Unknown said...

My girl goes to college Wednesday. I was fine until this morning during a lull when we realized she needs to pack. Everything. Today. I've been a mess all freaking morning and should be better once we get back to work. So your approach sounds swell to me! Avoid the lulls!!! (Having a 3 year old works well towards that end....)

tt said...

oh, writing therapy, where would we be without you? i can relate to your alternating between being more than fully occupied and having a few minutes to tap into your heart and let feelings flow out through the keyboard and into the world. soccer practice, meals, and bottom-wiping can only carry you so far! putting the words down forces us to figure out who we are, what we'er feeling, where we're heading. and when there's uncertainty about those things, it at least gives us an opportunity to ask the questions whose answers would fill in the blanks.

saying that college goodbye is a tough thing. but in the grand scheme of things it's not the worst kind of goodbye. my nest became empty when my youngest went off to jmu [!]. then she came back for a bit, and then recently decided to move to denver, to really spread her wings. but she felt nervous about driving out alone, and wanted to take some of her furniture, so she flashed those pearly whites that i could never resist and asked if i would join her. she loaded her vw jetta and i loaded my soccer mom honda odyssey, the one that served us so well starting when there were three dear ones at home. i mapped out the route, with stops planned at comfortable intervals: lexington, ky and kansas city, mo.

and we set out, me in the lead and she in my rear-view mirror the hold way. in denver we unloaded and spent a couple days seeing the sights and hitting thrift shops for household items. on my last day it started to hit me. we had spent the afternoon in boulder and on the drive to denver the tears began. i told her, my voice cracking, 'i'm thinking about the drive home and looking up in my rear-view mirror and you wont be there.'

they come into our lives and then they leave, in ways large and small. being a parent is about coping with a hundred heartbreaks. but also ten thousand joys.

here's to the joys!

Edie Evans said...

Your soul searching is so inspiring -- and your honesty is sure to comfort so many who are in your shoes. I was diagnosed with cancer in my son's junior year of high school. I was so afraid that I would die before I could send him off that I worked at a feverish pace to complete absolutely everything I thought he would need in life -- but that wasn't possible. I thought I would fall apart when he left (he's my baby) but I didn't shed a tear --- not at his graduation, not while moving him in to his small, un-air conditioned dorm room and not when I drove away. I was so relieved that I made it, and 'm still making it. Looks like you've made it too -- in a much more difficult way, but you're making it momma -- keep it up!

Jill E. Payne said...

Your soul searching is so inspiring -- and your honesty is sure to comfort so many who are in your shoes. I was diagnosed with cancer in my son's junior year of high school. I was so afraid that I would die before I could send him off that I worked at a feverish pace to complete absolutely everything I thought he would need in life -- but that wasn't possible. I thought I would fall apart when he left (he's my baby) but I didn't shed a tear --- not at his graduation, not while moving him in to his small, un-air conditioned dorm room and not when I drove away. I was so relieved that I made it, and 'm still making it. Looks like you've made it too -- in a much more difficult way, but you're making it momma -- keep it up!

Debby@Just Breathe said...

God Bless you Ann for being so strong. So happy Margaret has you in her life and glad your house isn't empty yet. I think about you and Jack often. College??? Wow! I pray she has a wonderful time.

windy wendy said...

It’s so funny that this blog is what it’s about. Coincidence maybe I doubt it. This has been happening a lot this past 4 years.
I was at the cemetery changing the flower arrangements for my daughter it’s her Birthday month. When I noticed this woman about our age sitting in a lawn chair next to a headstone. I walked over and saw it was her daughters grave also. Her daughter had been gone a few years after mine. Both our daughters 20ish girls with there lives ahead of them.
Back to the subject we talked and talked in the 90 degree humid heat. She told me that her life just stopped and she couldn’t process another day they just arrived without warning it seemed, but for me the busier I am the better. Stopping makes me think and wonder and remember. So to your point the long way around the block Lol. I agree. I think if I personally try to sit and stare at her headstone my life would be mentally over.

Laurie said...

We so need to process this together. Sending our girls off after losing our first sons calls for my friends Ben and Jerry to join us, and SOON.

Sarah H said...

Your post reminds me a little of my father's philosophy that there was always going to be grief, so isn't it better to keep busy? My beloved neighbor's husband passed away suddenly, and just as suddenly she 'inherited' two grandsons under the age of five who were coming from a broken home and need some good parenting. "Good." my dad said. "She'll only feel sad when she can't help it."

A few years later my own father died suddenly. Just as suddenly I needed to be put on bedrest for my third child--my Mom ended up living with us for three months while she took care of my two littles. After things calmed down, my sister announced that she was getting married in our hometown as opposed to Philadelphia which produced a flurry of activity and plans and a full house for more than two weeks. My sister's first set of twins followed a year later along with plans to move back to said hometown. Essentially my mom is settled in the life of a part time young mom with multiples and a toddler during her 'golden years'. She misses her departed loved ones. She is busy. My dad is no doubt nodding in approval right now.

Jennifer Sherwin said...

This is so insightful, and as always, beautifully expressed. Praying for an amazing year for all of you!

Melissa said...

Love you, Anna! After all these years I’ve been following your blog, you still inspire me with your transparency and your words. I think distractions and busyness are helpful in getting us through the days, the weeks, the months but along the way, we process our challenges in small ways like sharing with friends, prayer, writing, laughter and tears, running... You’ve been an example to me to for the last 7 years as I’ve gone through my own life challenges and when I see “An Inch of Gray” in my inbox, I make it a point to read that email because I know in some way, it’s going to give me what I need to get through whatever my circumstances are at that moment! Thank you for “processing through blogging” and sharing your world with us. Much love to you and I know Margaret is going to fly high as an eagle and accomplish her dreams!!!

ellen said...

Have you read Kelly Corrigan's NYT piece about her oldest starting college -- google it. It's so good (and I don't even have kids).

Martine Carroll said...

I’m just about to empty nest too, as my middle boy goes off to university in a couple of weeks and my youngest suddenly died 3 years ago, aged 9, so we are empty nesting much earlier than anticipated. Which I thought would be awful and sad and depressing. But actually, both my older boys have been away a lot this summer, and while I’ve been home alone I’ve surprised myself by feeling just that little bit liberated, both sad AND happy that I can live a little more freely. And so I think when he goes I’m actually going to be okay. I didn’t cry when my eldest went off to university either, just a year after my little one died, and I think that’s because, although I’m sad that they are going, I know that they are still alive, they are still there though far away, so by comparison to the way I miss my youngest every single day, I’m incredibly happy that I can still call them, still visit them, still hug them from time to time. And that for me, as I’m sure it is for you, is truly a blessing xxx

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog since Jack’s passing. Four years ago our oldest child and girl ran away to heaven one night in her sleep. She had dealt with epilepsy since she was 14. Doctors thought the epilepsy cause was 107 degrees temperature with measles at 4yo. The epilepsy won but only after marriage and 3 great kids. I loved your book and gave it to Julie, we found it in her things. I have gone to group therapy, but still at times telephone poles look inviting, but I have a son and twin girls that still give me joy. I admire your strength and new life and know that I’ll soon find mine.

ellefinn said...

She's Kim Possible!!

Ernie said...

You are so insightful and inspiring. My two oldest left for college on Sunday. One guy has been away for years as he is starting senior year, the next guy leaving for freshman year is a new adjustment. Keeping busy is the thing to do I have decided.

Hoping Margaret has an amazing year, and that little Andrew does too! Thanks for sharing in such an honest and open way. I truly appreciate your writing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. Ever since I saw your face on the cover of a magazine in my doctor's exam room and I lit up thinking I "knew" you, I have realized that I really connect with what you have to say. I have experienced loss and I am raising my grandson, who calls me "Mom." I am giving him the best childhood I can, far better than the one I had. He keeps me going, even though I would sometimes love to just lay in bed and watch Netflix. I look forward to your posts; I appreciate your positive outlook on healing, and your honesty about how difficult life can sometimes be. Best wishes to you, and to Margaret, on this next adventure!

Jamie Miles said...

Our middle daughter started college this June and she has always been a challenge. Three years of middle school with her about killed me. I do not say that lightly. The psychical manifestations of the stress she caused all of us were unbelievable. That on top of an already challenging younger child -- I go into all that to say that now that she is gone, you'd think I'd have nothing but joy (or at least relief) but i'm struck with how weird I feel. Like something is missing -- in a strange, floundering way. Our relationship is better than ever (thank you Jesus) and we had a great conversation today 8/22 her Gotcha Day. She's doing so well. She's still not making all the choices I'd like, but hey where we were four years ago, it's miraculous.

But I still feel a loss. A loss of her chaos? When we as mothers invest ourselves in a child it is a hook -- an anchor plunged deep in our hearts. Any major transition has got to be hard, no matter how welcome. I know it gets better. Natural even. Our oldest is working and married. And it's great. Love to you Anna and your daughter is gorgeous. And that baby is too special. jamie

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Anna. I work in housing at a university, and it was Early Fall Start move-in this weekend for freshmen, an emotional time for kiddos and their parents. Rest assured that everyone at Margaret's school will endeavor to take good care of her, as we do at ours. Just help her know that it's okay to ask for help when she needs it. There are tons and tons of resources for just about everything.

Thinking of you and your family with love during this busy transition!

Love,
jbhat

Jeanie said...

Margaret is lovely. I hope she enjoys those college years.