I talked myself down from the ledge at least seventy-five times this week. The talks come about because of one recurring, torturous thought: “They are leaving me.”
They are my children who are leaving for college in one week. They are healthy and relatively happy. Life would seem to be good, and yet I find myself so overcome with a combination of fear, panic and sadness, that I’ll be driving down the road and let out a gasp, a cry, a sound, but no tears, just an aching sound with severe face contortion. I can’t even cry.
What is so scary about them leaving me, and why have I been feeling it, although to a lesser degree, since I first took them to kindergarten?
I have seen Grey Gardens, I don’t want them to stay home and keep me company. I want this next step in their lives. I am happy for them that they will be enjoying four challenging, transformative, memorable and fun years.
So why is their leaving keeping me up at night with a racing heart?
The best I can come up with is this incredibly powerful protective instinct. Before kids, I had never known anything like it. Being responsible for other human beings who are so vulnerable, is all consuming and completely overwhelming.
I remember hearing an interview with Maya Angelou where she spoke about a mother’s instinct. She related a story about when her grown son was in Africa, on another continent, and got into a car accident. He was going to be okay, but she somehow felt responsible. That’s motherhood. It makes no sense, but most moms hearing her story completely understand it.
Once you get into the groove of parenting though, you get used to being on high alert for dangerous situations and anticipating problems. You get so good that eventually you don’t believe anyone, including your children themselves, can take care of them the way you can.
My kids are going to be two hours away, completely gone from my watchful eye, taking risks I would never have allowed, walking streets late at night completely unaware of possible dangers.
They are leaving me, and I won’t be there to protect them, and everything about that feels very wrong to every cell in my body. How do I deal with this sadness, worry, anxiety emotional combo?
I yell at my children.
I yell because I am “future angry” with them—that is when you are angry over their potential bad behavior.
For example, I saw a car with sorority letters in the back window, zig-zagging, at a high speed, through traffic on Rt. 40. Now, I need to go yell at my children about driving safely. That’s future angry.
There are so many reasons to be future angry—walking home alone late at night, not getting proper nutrition, not getting enough sleep, not washing their sheets, drinking too much, no studying enough, not wearing shoes in the shower, etc.
It’s like the first time you hire a babysitter, only worse, because they are the babysitter.
And that thought sends me right back up to the ledge.