the canyon

broken_heart1There is so much time–a grand canyon of time–between the intimacy of mothering and the emptying of the nest. And the time in between is something altogether out of time. Only you don’t realize this until you find yourself on the other side. Which is where I am now.

It’s a bit like marriage. Maybe a lot like marriage. Only the gap is swifter then. Like in the time between the birth of your first child and your first getaway. Where you discover that there is nothing. Left. Where there once. Was. Everything.

It was his birthday. I dug out the blue cardboard box with the silver stars and found a melted nine candle and melted one candle and put them together to create the impossible number: 19.

Going through the motions.

The night before was even harder. We sat on his bed and read the book that we read every year on the kids’ birthdays: “On the day you were born…”

He was born on a rainy Tuesday. Waited forever for him to come. Agonized through years of negative pregnancy tests. Two miscarriages. An emergency c-section. And once he was in my arms, I never let him ago.

Until, of course, it was time.

First in little ways. Then in small ways. Next in big ways. And finally, the day we took our baby to an institution 3 hours away and left him to live with strangers.

College.

9 months later, he returned home to us. Loving us once more.
Only I was miles away.

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Turnstile

revolving-door-1
We sent our very independent and surly 18 year old off to college last August, and he returned this past May, thrilled to be home.

We were taken aback by this deep appreciation for our small world given his desperation to escape it a year earlier, and we mistook this as a leap in maturity rather than a deep disappointment in his experience at college and in himself there.

His new plan is to take a semester’s leave and to volunteer in his field (International and Community Development) to help bring the excrutiating static classroom experience to life; and to shed light on how to move through with passion and meaning and integrity.

With this aim, he has been working with a non-profit organization in Central America to find a good fit. They have decided on a women’s artisan cooperative in Costa Rica in the same town that he visited with his Junior High class in what seems like another lifetime ago.

He leaves in two weeks.
He leaves.
He.

As parents, we’re not sure about our role; which has been increasingly true for a least a couple of years now.

I’m beginning to understanding that parenting, all of it, is not so much a nest as it is a reverse toll booth or a turnstile or one of those revolving doors through which others move from the outside to the inside to the outside again.

In this analogy, I find it important to distinguish the role from myself. This distinction seems to have growing relevance as our children become adults.

I want to communicate support and encouragement without robbing initiative and autonomy, and that is a tall order.

Breath has become one of my greatest tools. And silence. And listening.

(But just in case, click here for his upcoming trip. Pass it a long if you’re so inclined.
Just don’t tell him that I asked.)

Round Two

Thirteen is… training-wheels adolescence. Fourteen is hardcore, biker adolescence.
~Anne Lamott

Just before the storm (photo: Kelly Salasin)
Almost 14~Just before the storm
(photo: Kelly Salasin)

Parenting a teenager is a lot like New England Weather… Everything is going along nicely… the sky is clear, the birds are singing, the world is right-side up, and then BANG! A storm rolls in. Thunder. Lightning.

Suddenly you’re without power.

Maybe all your connections are zapped.

“Where did that come from!” someone says.

And you say something like: “Polar Vortex.”

Or in our case, “FOURTEEN!”

We’ve arrived. Just yesterday. And as if on cue, the thunder rolled in, the lightning struck, and I was ready to quit. Give up. Move out.

MOTHERHOOD SUCKS.

It took all the maturity and self-restraint cultivated over the past 50 years not to put the power back in my hands. To let my heart lie there, trampled upon, without striking back.

And it took all the self-compassion cultivated since becoming someone’s mother, to walk away, to lick my own wounds, without taking any of it too personally.

There is a scene from a favorite movie of mine: Spanglish. With Adam Sandler. Do you know it? Remember what he says when he finds out that his wife has betrayed him? Something about hearing the universe crack…

My universe, as a mother, cracked twice this week. Once with each of my offspring. And I have to admit that I could barely summon much affection for either of them afterward.

Maybe they deserve it. Maybe I’m being melodramatic. Maybe THIS is parenthood. Or maybe this crack is an opportunity for something new.

I’m on the lookout for what that is. For how it will shape me. And reshape our lives together.

But right now?

I want to move out…
timthumb

Beloved

She felt motherhood slipping away, like an ice cap, slowly melting over time, and then suddenly breaking apart, drifting further and further…

Knuffle-Bunny-300x226Alone, at a children’s book museum, she released silent tears, as she read Knuffle Bunny Free to herself.

She had read the first in this series: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale to her youngest when he was just a boy. Then there was Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity ; and finally: Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion–where the beloved Knuffle Bunny is lost yet again, and not grieved so much, as released.

Just this week her youngest son found his own lovey–a penguin–lost amidst the covers of his bed. He guessed he had been there for weeks. Without noticing. Without crying for help. Without the imperative of finding his Pengie.

Her older son was off to college and his kitty, Slimmy, once a treasured companion, now sat on a bookshelf, beside cologne and cds, in a vacant room.

Her own puppy, Mine, was similarly stowed, without the daily attention its weathered body received all those years ago.

And then she wondered, what becomes of Beloveds like these, when WE ourselves are gone?

Leaving the Nest

cropped-nest-by-irish-eyes1-1By now, I know that this is how it goes. I expand into a new aspect of my life and the nightmares return. There was the one where I prostituted my youngest son. Or the one where my house was on fire. Or the one from this week where I cheated on my husband and abandoned the baby.

I don’t have a baby. I haven’t had a baby for 13 years. My kids don’t even need me. Not in that moment to moment, or even day to day way. In fact, when I’m gone they’re delighted. Not that they want me out the picture altogether, but that they welcome the opening that any familial absence brings.

And yet, each time I leave, I sense my world less secure. Threatened by my lack of attention–not so much because it’s needed, but because it’s necessary, as a ritual, of protection. Of vigilance. Of coping. Of childhood, mine, not theirs.

I have a therapist. I address these challenges as they come up, but they always return with the tide of life’s changes, particularly as I grow beyond home.

In last night’s dream, I was on a trip. I stopped at the police station on a city corner for help. Somehow my favorite sweatshirt was tangled in the traffic light lines overhead. I turned my back on my car only to hear it get hit by another. It wasn’t a bad accident, but my car was immediately pushed to the side of the road, by a bulldozer, and totalled in the process. Hood crushed. Windows smashed. Contents looted. Particularly during the night when I couldn’t watch.

At dawn, I returned to my vehicle, which had grown into a mini-van and then a trailer and finally a small warehouse, and came upon throngs of inner-city homeless shopping through my stuff as if it were a tag sale. I dashed after one object and then another, unable to stop the flow of my belongings departing.

I couldn’t remember what I had packed, and I couldn’t figure out what items were in greatest need of my protection. I stopped two women walking out with my books, and I said, “Those are mine,” and to my surprise, they seemed to care, not so much about the contents in their hands but about me. They asked if I had food. They asked if needed money. When I explained that I had eaten breakfast and that I had insurance for my things, they looked at me differently, and with that, they turned, with my things in hand.

Just then I saw two large men walking off with my Baggalini purse and tote bag. Finally, I was certain of something I should protect in this chaos. I ran after them, and then paused, considering if the belongings were worth my life. The men looked threatening. Maybe the had weapons. I had left those bags on the front seat of car, which became the chair, at my desk, near the piano, in the last classroom in which I taught before leaving my career as a teacher.

I followed these men out the back doors and onto the stairs, and grabbed after my bags, explaining how long it had taken me to choose this particular brand for my international work; but then I remembered, that I had left that job too, and didn’t really need those bags in the same way. The men kept rummaging through them, looking for something they wanted. I kept hoping that they wouldn’t find my wallet and my computer, which I couldn’t believe that I had left behind. I called out for help.

My husband appeared outside the building, at the top of the steps, outside of what had become glass doors;  and he waved pleasantly as if nothing was wrong; as if to say…

Hadn’t I chosen this sale of my life?

This what happens when you leave.

This is what happened each time I turned my back on my life as a daughter. My mother started drinking. My cat disappeared. My Nana was killed in an accident. My parents divorced. We lost our house. Our family was torn apart. My mother got cancer.

Pay attention, Kelly

Pay attention.

Kelly is constantly distracted.

Kelly is a constant source of distraction.

Kelly needs to focus.

Looked what happened when you weren’t paying attention, Kelly! Look what happened when you went away.

For this reason, I am terrified of wanting more. Of needing something other than the gift of my family and our home and our lives together.

I watched my father lose his family out of neglect for “other.” I watched my mother lose her family out of neglect of self. I want to be responsible. I want to do it right. I want everything good to last forever. I can’t bear to be at fault when it doesn’t. It is all such a precarious balancing act.

But now it is morning, and spring is awakening on our snowy hill. Geese call from overhead, and new patches of grass greet me out the window. The smell of sugaring lingers in the air.

I am hungry for breakfast. I will make eggs in my kitchen. And in a week’s time, I will abandon my family during our spring vacation for an opportunity to expand and enrich my own life, with the hope that they will be safe and secure and sublimely satisfied themselves.

My youngest is at first appalled that I will miss the trip (that I so carefully crafted) to visit his brother at school; though later he confides that he’ll enjoy the time alone with his dad. His brother tells me that he’d be mad if I didn’t go, if I didn’t take this opportunity. As a freshman at college, he knows something about the push to leave and the pull from home.

In fact, he was the one who, at four years old, when I took him to the art studio to sign up for classes, and discovered that he was too young, encouraged me to take a class instead. “You can do it, Mom,” he said. And I did. Because he believed I could.

This is how it is. Loss comes with light. Growth comes with pain. Opportunity requires giving something up.

Sometimes life’s choices aren’t as simple as good and evil, right and wrong, true and false; sometimes they’re both good and right and true–all at the same time.

I went back and forth on whether this post belonged on my personal journey blog, Two Owls Calling, or on this parental journey blog, The Empty(ing) Nest Diary, and I wished there was some way to have it rest–in between. I want to visit my son and take this opportunity in my life. But I have to choose.

And so I leave this post here,

and head off to myself–there.

Kelly Salasin

(Click to head “there” for the companion piece to this one, written 10 years earlier: Lobotomy)

Losing my familiar

empty nestWhat is it about 3:30 in the morning?

Is it me or do others find themselves wide-eyed at the wrong time too?

Last night I woke in an unfamiliar place. (Inside and out.)

There I was, in someone else’s home, in some else’s bed, in someone else’s suburban neighborhood, outside of someone else’s city… only it was my son’s city now too.

We were there for parent weekend; we had been thrilled to come; THRILLED; but after we dropped my son back at the dorms that first night, everything felt wrong.

At 3:45 am, I ached for my own bed, in my own home, on my own dirt road, in my own rural community 200 miles away; but in the dark of the night I realized that it had become a stranger too.

My entire life had.

At 4:00 am, I considered re-arranging my bedroom once home so that my bed was facing south again; but even in my imagination, I knew it wouldn’t be enough.

I had lost my familiar.

There is something to mothering that steeps one in the familiar, in home, in the timelessness of connection and belonging.

As a child myself, I moved more than a dozen times so I never fully experienced this deep hold until my body became my baby’s.

Once he was beside me, I no longer relied on the company of my blankie which traveled across the country, and the sea, to be my home.

At 4:20 am, I considered the stretch of life ahead of me–without my son–and decided that it might be time to bring my blankie back to bed.

(ps. it’s actually 2 blankies and a stuffed puppy)

(And here’s a tune for all those seeking “home”

The missing limb

1187287_10151818827533746_1766580072_nI’m not a sailor or a swimmer, but I love being beside the water.

While my husband and our second son gallivant around town, I retreat to a quiet table on a floating dock.

I order a glass of Chardonnay and coconut shrimp and set to scribbling notes to myself on a piece of scrap paper procured at the desk of the marina.

The sun is high above my umbrella, the day is crystal clear, and the mountain ranges across the great expanse of Lake Champlain are a sea of waves unto themselves.

This is perfect therapy for saying goodbye to a son; better than all those last minute searches at Wal-mart and Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond with the throngs of other parents of college freshmen.

I decide that before we leave Burlington–and our first born, we will take the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory tour.

A thin, blue dragonfly lands on my table and reminds me of my calling. I fold the piece of paper once, and then again, so that there are 4 boxes into which I can, somewhat privately, collect my emerging thoughts.

I’m interested in how the body has its own response to goodbye…

When I have filled an entire side of the sheet, I unfold it and flip it to the opposite side, folding it up once more. I ask the waitress for a glass of water. I scoop out some of the ice and drop it into my wine. I am feeling almost buoyant.

And then I hear: “I think we should move here, Dad.”

I look up to see a boy about the age of my second son, 13, standing beside his father who has stepped up to the bar. I recognize the longing in the boy’s voice. I’ve heard in my husband’s voice today as he raves about the Champlain Valley, as if to say the same: “Let’s move here.”

I can’t hear the father’s response, but I sense it in the reflection of his wife’s face as she approaches them. She is beautiful, but sad, hollowed even. She smiles wistfully at her husband and brushes her hand against his cheek while he leans over to kiss his tall son on the forehead. From behind, a small girl with long brown curls wraps her arms around her father’s waist and rests her head against his back.

I wipe tears from my folded paper as this family limps away.