In what I can only describe as synchronicity, I received the following reflection in a Yoga Journal newsletter exactly one week after Tripp and I dropped Kelsey off at college.
Conscious transitioning between poses is … an essential part of the practice. Consciously moving in and out of poses can not only help you to avoid injury, it can also translate to lasting changes in your life … “What you do before you get into a pose dictates its quality once you arrive. It’s the same in your life. The millions of smaller actions you take will determine the strength—or shakiness—of the foundation underneath the more showy milestones of your life.”
Epic right? I mean what could be a better example of my empty-nest situation than the transition between upward facing dog and downward facing dog? All joking aside though, I think what the uber-zen folks at Yoga Journal were trying to say is that when faced with big changes, the best approach is to take baby steps. And that is something I know a thing or two about.
Next to the year that Kelsey was born, 2011 goes down as one of the most transformative years of my life and it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve cried more than my share of tears and I’m certainly not proud of some of my whinier moments. But nevertheless, I embraced the journey and I learned a lot about myself. And now that 2011 is drawing to a close, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned about letting go.
1. Letting go is hard.
And really, why wouldn’t it be? I spent the past 18 years of my life caring for my child, my whole life revolving around her needs. Switching gears isn’t easy. The one thing I think I did right was to give myself permission to experience the array of emotions that accompanied each step along the way. I didn’t deny my feelings, but I also didn’t allow myself to dwell in negative, dark places because I didn’t want my own issues to cloud the wonderful, exciting things happening for my daughter.
2. Motherhood as a vocation.
All I ever wanted to do was be a mom. Even though I have a “real job” motherhood has always been my passion and it has filled me with a gratifying sense of purpose. But when the day-to-day aspects of being a mom began to wind down, I felt a little as if I was washed up at 43. It was scary as hell to look into the future without the direction and focus that having a child at home gave me. But over the course of the past year, I’ve learned that there is more to me than being a mom and sometimes it just takes a little time (and a lot of Faith) to figure it out.
3. Living at the corner of hormonal and sensitive.
In a cruel twist of fate, not only was I dealing with my only child leaving the nest, last year I was also in perimenopause hell. Wildly fluctuating hormones seem to exacerbate my emotions and hormonally induced insomnia has sent me straight to Crazytown a time or two – it just made everything worse. During one of my more pathetic and maudlin episodes, I remember actually thinking to myself, “Well this is just great…I’m washed up as a mom and I’m washed up as a woman.” Awesome huh? Definitely the words of a sleep-deprived woman on the edge. I am grateful though (as is my family) that my insomnia was short-lived. Otherwise I might have been writing this blog post from the Crazytown Mental Hospital.
4. Roosting chickens.
My friend N once told me, “This is the time in your life when your chickens will come home to roost.” I never understood that saying until last year when one evening Kelsey shared with me the burden she felt being an only child. I wanted to die. Here I had spent my whole life devoted to my child’s well being and happiness and when she confided this to me, I felt like a complete failure as a parent. Of course I know I didn’t completely fail, but the realization that I’ve probably made some mistakes or could have done some things differently was not an easy pill to swallow. Part of my journey has been about not just letting go of my child, but letting go of unproductive coulda/shoulda/woulda’s because there’s no such thing a perfect parent.
5. Peeling off the Band-Aid.
Last year I was completely blind-sided by the painful memories of the years that Tripp and I spent trying to have another child. I was devastated when we found out that it wouldn’t be possible, but I did what every other woman in my family did when faced with difficult circumstances – I put my big-girl panties on and went on about the business of taking care of my family. Then last year as things started to change I realized that my delightful daughter was like a Band-Aid for that painful time in my life and as I peeled it away, I was faced with a scar that I’d been hiding for many years. Although I was surprised to find that the scar was still quite tender, it was (and still is) a not-so-subtle reminder of the healing power of God.
6. The $64,000 question.
Whether it was hormonally induced or the fact that Kelsey needed me less and less, I started peeling back the labels of “mom” and “wife” and I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis, unable to answer some of life’s most basic questions – “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose?” I think sometimes people forget the answers, but I don’t think I ever really knew to begin with. So therefore I spent a large part of this past year exploring my life and discovering myself. Although a lot of who I am is tied to what I do, I learned that my ultimate purpose in life is just to be– to express my essential Kelly-ness in all my hormonal, sensitive, messy glory.
7. Handing over the keys.
As a parent, one of my greatest responsibilities has been to keep my child safe. From the very beginning, I did my best to protect my daughter whether it was putting her to sleep on her back, shoving little plastic plugs into the sockets, warning her about strangers, or making her wear a seatbelt. It’s just what parents do. But dammit if my little girl didn’t grow up on me and want to go to college. That’s when my momma bear instinct kicked into high gear and I started to worry about whowas going to make sure she was safe over there at the university. Who was going to make sure she was happy? The day we took her for enrollment it finally dawned on me that my delightful daughter was ready to take over – it’s her turn to drive. I’m sure she will make a few mistakes along the way – I certainly did – but it’s all part of her journey now. And I will always be there to help her get back on track if she needs it.
8. Just like old times.
With Kelsey spending more and more time away from home her senior year and then her first semester away from home, Tripp and I found ourselves spending more and more time alone with each other. (It felt vaguely reminiscent of our first year or so of marriage – only with a few more pounds and a little more gray hair). This transition has been challenging for him too, so to have each other to lean on for support has been a tremendous source of comfort for me. I know that this time of life can be difficult for a lot of couples, but I have been so blessed to have Tripp as my partner and mate.
9. Filling in the empty spaces.
One of my friends told me that every mom who sends her child off to college gets one good pity-party meltdown afterwards and I certainly got mine with some to spare. No joke, it was ugly. For two days I cried about how much I missed my daughter. And not just her physical presence but also the direction and focus that she brought to my life. I felt aimless and empty. Then one day, I received some spiritual encouragement from my garden and I realized that sometimes empty spaces are just room to grow into. And that has made all the difference. So now instead of actively trying to fill the void with something else, I am just going to let those empty spaces be and see where my already full life fills in.
I realize that every woman experiences this transition in life a little differently. I wouldn’t expect that a mother of six whose last child finally left the nest would go through some of the same things that I did. But I also think that there are some truths that every mother feels from time to time (as confirmed by some of my dearest, closest friends) and it is important that we share our experiences. For me, there has been so much comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who’s choked on the big pill from time to time.
With that in mind, I have created a new category on my blog appropriately called “The Big Pill.” (clever no?) It is a collection of all of the original blog posts that I wrote along the journey. A word of warning though…some of it’s not pretty. (I would suggest reading it with either a glass of wine or a box of tissues or both!) But as ugly as some of it is, I own it – it is authentic and what I was feeling at the time.
Even though there were some dark days, I wouldn’t change a thing about the past year and half. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve learned so much about myself. And now I am in such a good place and looking forward to the next chapter in my life. My prayer is that in whatever changes you might be facing, you experience the peace and hope that comes with Faith in God.
I am living proof.