The Not So Grateful Practice of Letting Go

A wise friend of mine told me, before I had my son, that becoming a parent was agreeing to let your heart run around outside your body. After I had Christian, I realized just how right he was. All the time when he was growing up, I had to trust him, or some other adult to take care of him and keep him safe. I think all parents would agree it’s so worrisome; the first day of daycare, the first day of school, the first time he biked to the park down the street with his friends, the first time he pulled out of the driveway with my car. All of those first moments makes Momma proud and scared. When Christian was five another friend of mine told me, “kids need three things, love, support and wings”. He too, was correct. The older Christian got, the more I had to stand by and let him learn lessons, brush him off and prop him up when things didn’t work out, and celebrate when they did. My goal in his life was to teach him to think – sometimes he does and sometimes, he’s just a boy. Wings, my friend said. I had no idea what this would ask of me, and I’m still just finding out.

I got a good taste of it when my son came to me on Thanksgiving over a year ago and said he was thinking of joining the Navy. Never did I think my child would join the military. His Dad was in the Navy Reserve and Christian remembers his deployment for 18 months away from his family, his son. Christian knows people who have served in various branches of the military and suffer with PTSD, have gone overseas multiple times, rarely see their families, are put in situations that no one really wants to be in, so why on earth would he join the Navy? 

“To see the world” he said. “And serve my country.”

“You can just take vacations like the rest of us, you know.” was my response. 

“It’s not the same, Mom, and you know it.” 

And I did know it. 

Experiencing a place for a week or two is not the same as becoming part of it. He promptly reminded me who it was that taught him his love of traveling and exploring and wanting to be different places with different people. Yes, he is talking about me.

When he was younger, we took a road trip together every summer. The rule was we couldn’t eat at a chain restaurant unless it was a one we didn’t have in St. Cloud. In all our years, Popeyes in Missouri, Hard Rock Cafe in Milwaukee, and In and Out Burger in California are the only chain places we’ve eaten at on vacation. The rule was about getting to know the local flavors, regardless of where local was at the time. When you travel, you eat what the locals eat. He still has a special place in his stomach for gravy on his fries when he can get it (Canada), Southern fried chicken, and BBQ (Georgia and Missouri). 

I told him, “Six months. If you don’t change your mind in six months, I’ll get behind this”. That evening Clarence and I went to the cabin for the long weekend and I cried for three days. He’s my one and only, how could I let him leave. 

So, now we’re down to less than three weeks until he leaves.

At first it seemed like we had all the time in the world when he took a delayed enlistment. Thank heavens he did with COVID, but the time is now down to next to nothing and there is lots to do. I keep myself focused on the to do list so I don’t just sit and be sad about not seeing my kid everyday like I’m used to. It’s strange having to plan for him to basically disappear from the world for the next five years. We need to still pack up his room, store his car, make financial arrangements, insurance plans, clean out his corner in the garage of bike stuff and scooter stuff, camping items, and seemingly all the equipment of every sport and recreational activity he tried and liked growing up. The list goes on. Everything needs to be touched, evaluated to keep or go, and have a place within the next couple weeks. 

Inside my heart, I always knew he would be a kid who moved away. I thought maybe he’d go to school and move out West and create a life. I never dreamed he’d put his life in the hands of the US Navy. I never dreamed I would ever have to go several months or more without seeing him.

This letting go that is now a part of parenting for me, is not an easy thing, and I certainly don’t see myself being incredibly graceful about it. It’s hard seeing the person I’ve spent the best years of my life building now go out and see what he’s made of. Those best years were the best years because of him. After my divorce from his Dad, Christian and I have been incredibly close. It was just the two of us…a lot. He tells his friends we’re more like brother and sister than Mom and Son. Our past lives support why we can do this in this life, and be good at it.

It’s good and it’s hard. I love that my son has so much courage that he can trust himself into an unknown environment and figure it out. He’s done it before on smaller scales, but this is a big scale. I love that he has such a strong sense of adventure and desire to find himself and his life that he is willing to do something so different in order to get a different view and perspective of his world. I am cutting the cords and giving him wings because I have to, and he deserves it. I admire him. I respect him. He has courage I don’t have, strength that I don’t possess, and fortitude that, well, maybe I taught him some of that. 

They are ours for such a short time. For those of you with little people, I know the days are long and the rewards are often few, but trust me, these are the glory days, and they will be gone too fast. For those of you with adult kids, I will lean on your comfort of it all turning out ok. They make their life and we make ours and it’s all good. I welcome this side of the experience. But for now, I try to just walk this part with him, at his side, mindful, not wanting to miss a thing. Knowing I will miss him so much. Knowing I will be both proud and worried because in parenting, they often go together. 

His step-dad and I are already threatening to come and see him wherever he goes as soon as we can. We keep telling him he’ll never really get away from us. I’m praying this is true.

I think he’s praying for ship duty. 

Forever the Journey,

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