Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Launching Youngest Child is Far More Complex than Rocket Science

Our youngest son just set off to start college in Southern California.  He was bubbling with anticipation of his independence and the exciting new frontiers awaiting him.  Meanwhile, his mother was incredulous that her baby could be launching into adult life (without her).

Not an uncommon scenario this season.  And not even novel for this son and this mother, as last fall he took off for a gap-year program in Israel.  That was certainly much farther away from home, and fraught with greater dangers.  But that environment was more structured and sheltered than the freedom offered in La-La Land.  And he was enveloped in the reassuring mission of studying our religion and its values.

And now, while he's discovering that LA drivers aren't nearly as polite as those in our "capital of nice" town, grateful for a GPS as he navigates the look-alike streets of the city where he (and his mom) were born, I'm here noticing that our home is eerily quiet and shockingly neat.  That the gallon of milk he didn't finish will soon start to stink in our fridge; that I don't have to replenish pounds of spaghetti and jars of red sauce and Costco boxes of Eggo waffles, the "all white" diet he prefers.

I have plenty to do, plenty to work on, and not enough time in the day, still. But very little of my time now goes to mom duties, like retrieving stray half-filled cups of juice from various parts of the house, discovering piles of damp towels behind the bathroom door, washing mounds of sweat sox and grubby jeans.  Why do I miss the mud-tracks of his tennis shoes on the stairs?

No more sharing my car with a kid who'd rather buy his face-wash with his girlfriend than with me anyway.  No more trying to write while my son plucks his ukulele and sings into his laptop creating another contribution to his YouTube channel.

Some would call it peace and quiet. Others would call it a giant hole in the whole, a loss not because I need him here, but because I like him here.

That's the issue for us weepy newly-empty nesters.  We enjoy our children; we appreciate their presence, even with all the sloppiness and noise, grousing and demands, because we engage with them and through that ongoing connection know they're thriving and healthy.  We want to watch their blossoming.

There's Skype, and cell phones and texting.  But nothing compares to knowing they're safe in their own beds under your own roof with you at night.  When their home address is yours.

Isn't this what we raised them for, ask well-meaning friends.  Well, no.  When you fall in love with a little baby that's miraculously emerged from your own body, you don't imagine him thrilled to leave you.  There's a difference between intellectually understanding that they grow up, and the emotional moment when it occurs.  "Someday" becomes today too soon, and you just don't feel any older.

Part of it for me is relinquishing the idea that I'm on the cusp, bursting onto an exciting future, and realizing that the next generation is competent and moving into the spotlight as we glide out of it.  When you've got energy and ideas and motivation, passing the mantle to some pipsqueak is uninviting.  Not that generations can't share the mantle--but for some reason media and its consumers are more enthralled with up-and-comers than had-their-turn oldsters.  We all recognize the culture's fascination with new and nubile, and nowadays kids have hundreds of "followers" intrigued by their internationally-visible online output before even setting foot out the door.

So bye-bye dear son, and so-long established roles and expectations.  The term "reinvent" isn't just for out-of-work victims of the economic downturn, it's for lots of us, at every turn. The security of tradition dictating just where to land no longer exists; both my son and I are finding our ways, he on an unfamiliar campus and me through the newly-cleared pathways of my home and my mind.


  1. My oldest is just starting middle school next week, but I see this day coming more quickly than I would like. Thanks for reminding me to enjoy the noise and dirt while I'm in that moment, so I can savor those memories when the moment is gone.

  2. This is beautiful. Here is a link to a wonderful prayer about launching our children.(I too am sending off my youngest)
    My Child Leaves Home (A Parent’s Prayer)
    Holy One,
    Heavenly Guide,
    My daughter / son is leaving home
    To begin the adventure of an independent life.
    Bless her / his journey with joy and wonder.
    Let opportunity open like a rose before her / his eyes.
    Be her / his compass and her / his shield.
    Lead her / him on a path of discovery
    Guided by the love of Torah,
    A commitment to mitzvot,
    And dedication to the Jewish people.
    Bless her / him with mentors and teachers,
    Companions and friends,
    Scholars and rabbis,
    To support and guide her / him along the way.

    In this marvel,
    In this glorious moment of growth fulfilled,
    My heart struggles with contradictions:
    Pride and fear,
    Joy and grief,
    Love and loss.
    The landscape of my life is shifting,
    Offering new challenges and new choices
    In the very moment my child departs.
    Give me the wisdom and the strength to honor my own life
    With gentleness and courage,
    And to embrace the beauty and promise of the time to come.

    G-d of our fathers and mothers,
    G-d of sacred transitions,
    Bless my daughter / son
    _______________ (child’s name in Hebrew or your native tongue)
    As she / he sets out on this new life.
    May she be a blessing to her / his [new] community.
    Lead us back to each other often,
    With stories of marvelous moments and amazing discovery.

    Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d,
    Who watches over the lives of our children.

    © 2010 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.

  3. I appreciate your comments, Jg, Glynis and Jac. The prayer on lauching brought me a tear.