In my almost eleven years as a mom, I’ve left my boys a few times. The first time was obviously the most traumatic since they were only about 14 months old. I had a job interview across the country and I REALLY needed a job that would pay more money and allow me to be more self-sufficient. At that point in time, I’d had a nanny for a few months who was very dedicated and sweet and who had two young girls of her own. She offered to have the boys stay overnight with her for the weekend while I flew to New York from California. I did it and still don’t know how I managed to do so without completely losing my mind.
In retrospect, I probably did lose my mind a bit. On the flight to New York, a red-eye, I ended up passing out somewhat inexplicably and needing an ambulance to take me to the hospital upon arrival. Maybe it was stress, combined with altitude, combined with a couple of beers and cigarettes while waiting to depart, or maybe it was hormones or God knows what else, but it wasn’t pretty. When the doctors advised that I check myself in and have some tests run, I refused. I tried to explain that I had an interview the following day and would be flying back to San Diego after that interview and back to my babies, thank you very much. I promised to get checked out by a doctor when I was back in California and checked myself out of the hospital. My mom and my sister drove to Long Island to pick me up since that is where the ambulance mistook me thinking I was staying there and not where my sister lived–2 hours away.
It was a whirlwind 48 hours and I was never so glad to be home and hold and snuggle those babies. They were alive and cooing and nothing awful or tragic had befallen them and in the end I got the job. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it; leaving my kids with people who were practically strangers to me. But then, all working parents know what it is like to have to leave their kids with a nanny or at daycare with people they have vetted and believe to be good, but one never really knows. Most of the times these are the risks we take because we really have no other choice.
The next couple of times I left my boys on a weekend with my sister or my mom so that I could spend a night with my BFF in a hotel in the city and down at the Jersey shore to celebrate my birthday. These were relatively short jaunts to nearby places and I felt exhilarated rather than stressed. I knew they were fine and I was never more than an hour or so away. The boys barely knew I was gone.
I did a long weekend away when one of my best friends got married in California. It was difficult, but I was so focused on the wedding that I didn’t stress too much. And then there was the New Year’s long weekend when they were four and I went a couple of hours away with my boyfriend and left the boys with my mom. This went relatively well except for me waking up in the middle of the night interrogating him about where the boys were and thinking that someone had taken them out from under my nose while I was sleeping. It was similar to when I’d wake up when they were babies and tear the sheets off my bed having dreamed they were suffocating in the blankets or worried that I’d fallen asleep with them in my arms.
There have been work trips that lasted a couple of nights and one trip to CA to see my friend and her new baby, a couple of nights in Boston to see a speaker I love, and a sanity trip to Cape Cod last summer–all relatively short trips away, all with the boys staying with family and basically maintaining their schedule and life and normalcy.
And they’ve also had nights away at slumber parties and friends’ houses. Happily leaving me behind with a “seeyalaterbye” and going off to do boy things that boys do. This past winter they had the opportunity to do a weekend campout at the nearby (read: 5 minutes) Boy Scout camp in cabins with some of the boys and Scout dads I had grown to know and trust over the past few years. I’ve been OK. I’ve taken the baby steps to let them go out on their own a little bit. I have. Really.
But when they expressed a desire to go on a week-long adventure to sleep away Boy Scout camp, I was a little uncertain. OK. More than a little. Pretty freaked out actually. Doesn’t matter that I had left them before for short periods of time with people they spent lots of time with anyway. This would be the first time THEY were leaving ME. For a week!
After much consideration, I decided to let them go. After all, what is parenthood but a series of these moments where we decide to let our children go.
As the time got closer, I realized they were not going to have a problem being away from me for a week. It was all me. I was the one freaking out. I was the one who was going to need to cope with their absence. I was the one being left home alone.
So far, the experience has been…interesting. I’ve definitely stressed over whether they were OK and whether they were homesick or if they were having a good time. I worry that they are safe and if they can handle any uncomfortable situation which might arise. But the one side-effect I wasn’t ready for was how this independence would make ME feel. Suddenly, they are one step closer to taking the car keys and leaving me for the night. They are one step closer to making their own decisions about how to spend their time whether or not I approve. They are one step closer to leaving me behind to go to college, and forge their own way, and have their own life.
And all this is scary enough without it also shining a light on the fact that over these eleven years, I don’t necessarily know myself anymore when it doesn’t relate to them. I’m mom. Who will I be when they are gone? I’m always mom, and will always be a mom, but it’s been a long time since I had the freedom to think and act independently from them. Soon, they will really be gone and I will be left on my own. What will I do then? Who will I be? What will I spend my time doing?
These past few days have reminded me a little of who I was before the boys came along and who I might be when they leave me behind for good. I took a day off of work to go to the beach and recharge. What will it be like to have all my vacation days and personal days to spend as I choose, not on caring for them when they aren’t in school or taking them to he doctor or dentist or being there when they are sick?
Tonight I thought I might get my nails done or watch a movie, but instead I dropped off their pillows and some cards with a Scout dad who is going up to camp tomorrow and ended up having a glass of wine with some other moms and realizing I’m not alone in my longing to have my boys where I can see them, in arms reach, where I know they are well and safe and enjoying their childhood. It was good to share the letting-go experience with others who are feeling it too.
But I know now my time is coming. Time that I have so desperately wanted and time that I so desperately wish I could keep at bay for a few more years of holding my little boys in my arms and snuggling them and knowing that all was right with the world. Before I know it, I will be alone and I will need to prepared to live MY life again and not just the life of me, mom, but me, ME. How will I do? What will I do?
Some things that have already occurred to me include:
- Walking around the house naked is so liberating. I will definitely be doing more of that when they are gone.
- Not needing to make sure that anyone but me has what they need for the day saves SO much time. I can definitely sleep later in the future.
- I can choose to take off work, wake up at the crack of dawn, spend the day at the beach, and still make it home to get a good night’s sleep without worrying about snacks, riptide, under-tow, snacks, not enough sunscreen, three chairs, snacks, a cooler, an umbrella, snacks, a sheet, sand toys, boogie boards, snacks, bathroom breaks or stopping three times on the parkway for any number of reasons. So efficient!
- If someone asks if I want to stay and have a drink, I can say: Sure!
- The gym is open early! I can go before work and never think twice. I might actually be in shape again.
- I can watch whatever I want on TV and it doesn’t matter how loud. Even if they are cursing. Or having sex. Or blowing shit up. I don’t even have to sneak a peek to see if my boys have overheard what I’ve been watching.
I’m sure there will be more by the end of the week.
What I do need to relearn is how to prioritize those things that are important to me. And how to identify those same things… I’m not even sure anymore what my priorities are beyond them. I guess what I have learned is that in letting my boys become who they are, I need to remember how to become who I am.
Because sooner than I am ready, it’s going to be all me.