Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hugging Distance

Letters from colleges are starting to arrive in droves. My daughter is a junior in high school and everyday a new reminder of how little time she has left at home arrives in the form of shiny packages in our mail box. Glossy pamphlets tout what each school has to offer and I see an excitement growing in my daughter’s eyes that I could, quite frankly, do without. It’s not that I dread an empty nest. When she packs up and takes that major step into the academic world, we will still be parents of a child under the age of ten, but I dread my girl leaving non-the-less.

I worry if she will be ready. I worry about the emotional highs and lows she will experience; I worry about boys, grades, distance and the everlasting need to hug her when I want to. Two more well designed packets came in the mail today and I trembled as I laid them on the kitchen counter for her to check out when she came home from school. I know her preference currently, and I shudder at the drive, the climate and hugging distance away. Unlike my husband, I am not a helicopter parent, but as the time nears to push my child from the nest, I catch myself holding my breath and taking in each moment. Even the eye-rolling ones.

All of this has been done before by other mothers, leaning out, letting go and hoping beyond hope they did everything they could to help prepare their child without the manual. Oh sure, there are a gazillion books out there about parenting, and while many are helpful, they are just like life, trial and error. I remember my Mama once saying that “You just do what you have to do in the moment and pray to God you did the right thing.” I know that letting go is the right thing, but no one prepared me for how hard this is going to be.

No, I will not miss hearing the morning out-of-tune serenade of “I AM up.” Nor will I miss the consistent need of a teen/woman/child to always have the last word, but I will miss moments. You know the one’s I’m talking about. The ones that take your very breath away at the amount of love and gratitude you have for being graced to have this very life put in your care. I had an unexpected hospital stay in November of 2013 that caught us all off guard. The recuperation period had both of my children showing their concern with a heck of a lot more attention to me than I was used to getting by them. My daughter walked by to clean a dish in the sink and hugged me on her way. The smell of her hair, the curve of her cheek, the very promise of all she is took me out of myself and found me marveling in the wealth that loving a child is. She looked at me funny, knowing that some moment had passed and then I told her not to worry. I told her I’d be well enough soon and back to riding her butt. She laughed long and hard, and so did I, carrying out the moment and making a memory. 

Thinking of that, I was reminded of my stay in the hospital and of the insatiable need to still have my own Mama taking care of me though she is long gone and spring has long since left my step. Once you are a parent, it never ends, and hopefully, the need for a parents love and affection is always wanted, even long after they are gone. 

From a different sort of distance, I still long for a mother’s touch, and from a geographic distance, I hope my daughter will still want mine. She will find herself in a world where she is becoming. The excitement of new ideas, her sense of self, all of this will be part of the process of leaving. It’s hard to let go, but it’s oh so exciting watching your child become who they will be. 

I had always said my three main goals as a parent were that my children could learn to be content all on their own, be self-sufficient, and not need too much therapy because of my parenting. I know now that I missed one goal. May they always know how much they are loved. A little hug now and then wouldn’t hurt either.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Kitchen Table and a Hand to Hold.

My sister-in-law, Sally, passed away suddenly this month and my eldest sister and I flew to Arizona to be with my brother. It was a short trip just shy of three full days, and we packed more into that time than I would have ever thought possible. We honored a lovely wife of 48 years, a mother who had compassion and wit, and who was a “Grandma” to many, not just her own. I watched my nephews mourn, and their children weep. I heard them speak Sally’s praises and laugh while telling stories about her. And I watched my brother.

Every memory I have of my brother is one of a calm and collected dude. (His sons, my nephews, may have seen him differently as a father.) I cannot recall a time that I have ever seen my brother lose it. More than any other male figure in my life, he has been my rock, our own father dying when I was just 18. I watched my brother graciously greet and welcome everyone who came to the services for Sally Kay Alford. My brother was a study in grace and gratitude. My sister Elizabeth and I later talked about that in the hotel room, feet up on pillows, shadows of the big and little sisters that we used to be when I would sit upon her bed and talk so many years before. Elizabeth and I sat in exhausted awe of this man who we called brother.

My brother took us around Phoenix, showing us the sights and allowing us to spend more precious time with our nephews and their loved ones. I met my great-nephews and nieces and found joy when the youngest ran into my arms to hug me. At my brother and Sally’s home, we sat around the kitchen table reminiscing. This was something we always did at home growing up, and we realized the table we were around was our Mother’s. We were only doing what came naturally. In a time of mourning, my brother was making us feel at home. In a time of sorrow, he was making new memories for us. In that time he was honoring his love of so many years with the comfort, caring and sharing that I believe Sally would have given others.

My brother’s chin wobbled only for a few seconds in the kitchen of his home. Wondering how he would handle the coming days. To me, he seemed even more of a rock, big softie that he really is. I don’t want to imagine a future without my husband. It is not habit that I reach for his hand and find it there. It’s a conscious choice to stand with someone you love, even on the awful, icky, if-I-look-at-you-I’ll-scream, days. I couldn’t fathom how my brother was coping, and in a moment of sharing, I saw a strength that took my breath away. What I saw was a kind of knowing that although the hand is no longer across the table from you, you still hold fast. 

Most of the time we were at my brother’s, we spent in laughter. I sat in the back seat of the car while my brother and sister sat in the front, driving to dinner with the family. There was a comfort in that, a memory of days spent in the back seat listening to my older siblings and knowing that somehow, no matter how the road twists and turns, we’ll be alright.