Column: A Proper Send Off
By Icy Frantz
Much of life is about letting go, and letting go is hard. Perhaps that is why the Buddhists believe we should never form attachments. With no disrespect, I have never really understood how to do that. I attach. I attach to people, places and things. I attach to the characters in the books I read, and I attach to the routines that give my life order. I am even vaguely attached to our two fish each named fish. They are the first to greet me in the morning with their big fish eyes watching me until I throw a few fish flakes into their tank. So, for me, letting go is hard and knowing when to let go is even harder. If you have had the pleasure of teaching a child how to ride a bike, you will know what I mean. Letting go is necessary and inevitable, but let go too soon and the result can be disastrous. Hold on too long, and the outcome can be awkward and leave you with a very sore back.
This time of year, always gets me thinking about letting go. Letting go to the casual days of summer and quiet mornings on the back porch with the paper (the Sentinel) and coffee but also letting go of behaviors and attitudes that keep me stuck in life. Letting go of material items like that cute gray suede mini skirt that no longer seems appropriate for my 52-year-old self and letting go of relationships that have run their course and cause more pain than joy. But letting go of our children as they head off into their new world is the hardest of all.
Soon Nursery schools will be opening their doors and welcoming their small scholars. I remember dropping our eldest at his first day of nursery school. He was dressed in his Superman costume that seemed to be his go to attire at the time. After shaking the hands of his two new teachers, we were nudged out of the classroom door and into the nursery school parking lot. We engaged in small talk with the other parents feigning interest and tried to look through the small windows for any sighting of the child we had left behind. Peeping Toms have nothing on Peeping Moms.
For many of us, allowing the chubby little fingers of our children slip through our hands was the first step in a long process of letting go. We hoped that our son would make friends and that he wouldn’t bite them. We hoped that he would mind his manners and excel in all his nursery school activities. And we prayed that at the end of his short day he would return to us running into our out stretched arms and all would be okay.
We blinked, and we were dropping off that same child at a boarding school in Central Connecticut. His fingers, no longer chubby, were grasping the big duffel bags full of his belongings and dragging them up the stairwell. His new football coach was yelling commands at him and making fun of my husband who graduated from the rival school. I had on my big black sunglasses, the ones I call September glasses because they hide the tears. I tried to find reasons to delay our departure.
“Let’s go to the school store. I need to visit the ladies room…one more time.”
But eventually we were nudged out this door too. We drove home. It was strange to walk by his empty room and I found myself looking in at the treasures that had been left behind; pictures of his football teams, scattered papers from his ninth-grade history class, a signed baseball, a few Matt Christopher books. These were all little examples of the experiences that had shaped the young man that he had become. I knew that he would be back and that we would visit him at school but something had changed. What started at the doors of his nursery school was continuing in a trajectory that was taking our son out into a world that extended beyond our reach.
Again, we hoped that our son would make friends- the kind of friends that would influence him positively and that he would be a good teammate and a respected member of the community. We hoped we had prepared him well and that he would remember to brush his teeth and take showers. We hoped that he would find adults who would cherish and guide him. We hoped that he would embrace our family values and that the life lessons he would need to learn would be painful enough for him to remember but not so painful as to damage him. And we prayed that at the end of the school year, he would return home a little bigger and a little wiser and comforted by his childhood treasures.
When it came time for college, our son chose a medium sized school about four hours from home. I put on my September glasses and we drove a packed SUV into central PA. We had time together in a car, and I was thrilled. Somewhere on Route 80 when the radio stations seemed to fade out and every other car was a logging truck, he said;
“You know Mom, I am more than just my name.” I can’t remember in what context he said this but I quickly responded;
“Of course, you are.”
I was both proud and terrified; proud that he had developed the confidence to stand on his own but terrified that it meant that we were losing a little more of him. He was his own person, perhaps shaped a little by his parents but he was setting out one more time a little bit farther and looking back at us saying “I got this.” And somehow, we knew he did.
Again, we hoped our son would be a good friend; that he would eat healthy and not drink too much beer and that he would treat the girls he met with respect. We hoped that he would use good judgment and take advantage of all that was being offered him and that he would become passionate about various career paths and follow them. And we prayed that no matter how far he ventured both physically and spiritually that he would find his way back into the folds of our family and his childhood bed and be nudged back in the door by the cold nose of our golden retriever.
The other day I asked another son for an example in life where one must let go to be successful. I had come up with rock climbing but was looking for other examples. For a climber, letting go of a handhold is a necessary yet scary part of the sport. To reach a higher stance, the climber must release his or her grip, stretch towards the heavens and search for another handhold. My son commented “Actually, the climber is always holding on with the other hand.”
Perfect- in parenting we are always letting go in order to achieve a higher stance and the anticipated peak and at the same time we are also holding on ..holding on with love, and the knowledge that our children no matter where their lives take` them will always be in our hearts.
I will continue to attach- and risk the feeling of loss. But instead of letting go, I will send off with huge celebration and fanfare. Good –bye gray mini skirt. I will miss you. So long to the relationship that has left me questioning my own self-worth but has likely taught me wisely. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And for our children as they take on their new world; the world that exists beyond our grasp- whether it be within the bright colored walls of a nursery school, the lush quad of a college campus or behind the desk of their new corporate office: farewell. Be in awe of them and pat yourselves on the back that you are standing at the door of this milestone. Release the balloons. Release the grip of those chubby fingers and the grip of that grown up hand and high five them. Reach for the higher hand hold. Who knows what is awaiting on the summit.