Letting Go

Letting Go

June 27th, 1999. I’m making a quick trip to the grocery store. As I’m backing out of the driveway, I have this nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. I brake and look over; purse is in the passenger seat. I shift to reverse again and give the car a little gas. Still not out of the driveway, I screech to a halt. Then it hits me, “Oh, shit! I have a baby!”

Now, in my defense I had given birth four days earlier and had gotten maybe a total of 45 minutes sleep in the days that followed. I was determined to breast feed this child. All of the research said he would be more intelligent, have fewer ear infections, and bond more completely to me. I was sold on the idea. I had visions of me, clad in skinny jeans, laughing and rocking him while he breast-fed and cooed, lovingly and contentedly. The reality was me, a zombie (seriously, I was hideous and a little surprised that my baby didn’t recoil from me in fear) wearing men’s sweatpants, and crying hysterically while my baby drank ferociously from my mangled breast, then passed out cold like a binge drinker at an open bar.

It was my first clue that, despite the fact that I was head over heels in love with this kid, I wasn’t going to be a natural at the motherhood thing.

The breast feeding experience gave me a new found respect for animals that can’t resort to Enfamil when the going gets rough. In fact, I still wince when I see a baby anything latch on. I did find, though, that what I lacked in breast feeding expertise, I made up for in other areas. I perfected cleaning with my right hand while I carried him in the crook of my left arm. On the rare occasions when I actually laid him down, I placed a compact mirror under his nose at regular intervals to be sure he was breathing. I selected his baby food with great care, trying each jar first and discarding the truly nasty stuff. There’s a lot of truly nasty baby food.

Because I lost the coin toss, we named him Jake instead of Landry. Jake and I became inseparable. I shielded him from that psycho purple dinosaur, bought him Baby Einstein DVD’s, and introduced him to classic rock. Imagine my pride, when at 2 1/2 years old, he launched into ‘Purple Haze’ in the middle of my ultrasound appointment while pregnant with his sister. Even the doctor remarked that he had never heard a 2 year old sing Hendrix before. Jake was having lots of fun ruling my universe. So much so, that when I brought his sister home from the hospital, he took one look at her while I was changing her diaper, expressed his dismay over the fact that she didn’t have a penis (after all, what would she play with in the tub?) and asked how long before we could take her back.

In time, Jake acquiesced and his younger sister became a much loved, although not breast-fed, part of the family. Then, when he was about 6 years old, his father and I separated. Divorce isn’t always a bad thing. There are times when it turns an emotionally-charged and unpredictable home, into a relaxed and stable one. This was one of those times.

Relief doesn’t describe how I felt. It was a physical lightening. If you’ve been through it, you know what I’m saying is true. I was worried though, about my kids and how they would adjust. My daughter was 3 and too young to really have a grasp of what was happening, but Jake was 6 and he understood exactly what the deal was. On top of that, he was a boy and I wasn’t. There was stuff he would have to be taught and I wasn’t sure I had it in me.

It’s no secret that I wasn’t the conventional, “Dr. Spock” kind of mother. My kids listened to rock instead of Kids Bop because I consider bad music a form of child abuse; I didn’t make them eat green baby food; I never had the extra outfit, remembered to pack a snack, or watered down the juice; neither one of them took a nap after they were about a year old; and when they fell down and skinned their knee, I clapped. Yep, that’s right. I clapped and cheered like they had just jumped the Grand Canyon on a Honda CR-50. In the blink of an eye, they would go from a possible level 10 meltdown to thinking they were the coolest cat on the planet and wearing that Band-Aid like a badge. Learned that one from my good friend, Gina. Try it.

So, as the years rolled on, I began to truly see what this boy of mine was made of. I did my best to fill in the voids and I’m sure I failed miserably often, but he never let me know it. Sure he would love football, I signed him up to play. After much research, I took him out in the yard to teach him how to tackle. I went into this detailed explanation about velocity being the result of the distance he traveled and the time he traveled it in. “It’s important” I said, “that you not hesitate or you’ll lose force.” He looked at me in complete seriousness and said, “Why do I want to run into another person at full speed? That doesn’t seem very smart.” A better mom would have seen the light, scrapped football and signed him up for tennis. He played for a few years, trying to make me happy, before he finally admitted he hated it.

And so began the evolution of this boy who, through no fault of his own, was forced to deal with the shortcomings of an unconventional mother as he evolved into a man. Being a single parent, mother or father, creates a parent/child dynamic very different than the one that exists in a two-parent household. When you’re a woman trying to raise a boy to be a man, it’s a true balancing act. As much as I wanted him to grow up blissfully unaware of the challenges we faced, that would have been impossible. Had he not been wired with the emotional maturity of a 40-year old, the wit of a stand up comic, and been smarter at 10 than I am now, life might have gone in a different direction. I desperately wanted to do right by him, and he never wanted to disappoint me, so we navigated life as a team.

I learned that the perfect time to talk to him about life was while he was shooting basketball. He loosened up and I had my best shot at dissecting his world to figure out what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. He learned that even though my jump shot was sketchy, I was great for running down rebounds.

I learned that being left out of father/son outings wasn’t going to kill him, even though it almost did me. He learned to surround himself with kids who had similar situations or who were the square peg in the round hole for some other reason.

I learned that the legendary “good ole boys” club is alive and well. He learned to be his own man and to let something go when it stops being fun.

I learned to stop worrying that he was too shy, or too laid back, or not motivated enough. He learned to step up and take control of his life, his grades, and settled comfortably into being who he was born to be.

I learned that no matter how I tried to hide the stress of too many bills and not enough money, some kids can’t be fooled. He learned that with life comes challenges and that giving up isn’t an option.

I learned to stop feeling guilty because I wasn’t home to bake the class cupcakes and I was way too tired to cook dinner many nights. He learned how hard single parents work to keep life on track…and I guarantee you he’ll be one hell of a great husband and dad because of it.

When I took him to kindergarten, we were both excited and said goodbye with a big smile and a fist bump. I looked around at the red-rimmed eyes of the other mothers and thought, “What is wrong with these people? They aren’t going off to war, they’re going to school. This is the natural progression of things.” I saw it with each transition; elementary to middle school, and then middle school to high school. There were a couple of times I was sure I had pulled something during a hard eye roll. I called those women bad names. Names that mean weak and wimpy and look like the word fussy.

Enter karma.

There are 206 days until this boy of mine graduates from high school. 221 days until I can no longer call him a boy. I know because I remind myself every day. I often hear parents say to their children, “I’m not your friend.” They say it as if they’re proud of that; as if it, in some way, makes them a better parent. Hell, I’m no expert. Maybe it does.

I’ll tell you this though, my son is my friend. He has walked all the way through the fire with me. Helped me find ways to make $10 last four days. Convinced me the meal I fed him was absolutely delicious when I knew it was barely edible. Reminded me that it was important for me to nurture my own love relationship, because one day he and McRae were going to be gone. Made me laugh so hard I cried, when all I really wanted to do was collapse in a heap and have a pity party. Stepped in and educated his sister on the many short-comings of teenage boys, among those the ability to lie through their teeth when they’re talking to teenage girls. Forbidden me from going to bat for him because he wants to be his own man. Told me he’s proud of me when I wasn’t very proud of myself. Taken care of me when I wasn’t feeling well. Supported my volunteer efforts. Gotten up to discuss world events with me over a cup of coffee, even when he could have slept in. And best of all, over the years he’s kept my house filled with happy, funny kids who consistently reminded me what life is really about.

In my book, that’s not just a friend. That’s a best friend.

So, on most days I find myself trying to quell the tears that appear for no real reason. No real reason other than I’m one day closer to letting him go. One day closer to not hearing him call out “Stevie”, instead of “Mom”. One day closer to chasing the boys away from McRae by myself. One day closer to only having one child to say, “You’re fantastic and I love you” to as we head out into the world each day. One day closer to collapsing in a heap and having that pity party, but quietly because I know it’s selfish. One day closer to sending my man-boy off into a world that doesn’t seem as kind as it did when I was his age. One day closer to reducing my role in his life to one that’s less bossy and more advisory. One day closer to having no idea if he’s going to class or hanging out with the right crowd.

One day closer to having no idea if he’s home safe before I go to bed. And that, my friends, is the worst part.

I’ve done what I set out to do, but never believed I could. His entire life I’ve stressed independence and self-sufficiency. I’ve reminded him how my job is to prepare him to leave. In every aspect of my life I’ve been an underachiever; until now. I knocked this out of the park. There are days I wish I had eased off the gas a little. I wish I could see some hesitation in him. I don’t. I see a man ready for the next chapter. Eager to expand his world intellectually, physically, and emotionally.

He’s ready. The question is, am I? Regardless, I’ll practice what I’ve preached.

I’ll be tough, stay focused, give him a smile and a fist bump, and whisper to myself,  just like I did all those years ago, “This is the natural progression of things.”

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29 thoughts on “Letting Go

  1. Oh that was so lovely! Our son started college this fall and we have had the joy of seeing him every other weekend – which is a frequency he is also happy with! He was home this weekend and we went to a restaurant where he had worked in HS and what a magical feeeling to watch his co-workers break into great big grins when they see him!
    Jake will do great things and you will share in the joy of it all. As my husband keeps saying “this is the best age”! Good health and happiness to you all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy, I’m hopeful that Jake will give me every other weekend! Maybe your son could send him some pointers. I can imagine the joy in seeing them find their way, and look forward to getting over the hump of filling the void. Stick around for pointers! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. It means the world.

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  2. Hang on there, girl. I was right ahead of you with this, and it’s a bumpy ride. I too am the first to admit that my daughter is my best friend (right along there with my husband, how pathetic is that?!) and as you know she is part of a two-parent family. So I’m sure people would have something to say about that as well. She left, but she didn’t. We text almost every day and she comes home quite often–sometimes even WITHOUT her laundry. Although I can still get an exasperated ‘Mommmm’ out of her when I’m helicopter parenting her at 20 years old, she is still my BFF. More than ever. The bright side is this means you have succeeded as a Mommy, big-time. Yay you!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susie, I think you’ve chosen your best friends wisely. I feel pretty confident he’ll be good about coming home…at least once a month, but I’m going to take full advantage of the coming months. Why do they seem to be going faster?? Thank you for being so supportive 🙂

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    1. Jane, I’m betting you have got it all under control. I’m sure that at some point he’ll decide to branch off on his on, but in the meantime I say snuggle up! Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to read. It is so appreciated.

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  3. Oh my heart. Way back to when Jake and Gracie, born 1 day apart, were like little tow-headed twins, and you and I (and whichever members of our families had the babies) both got the “they look SO much alike!” comments at the Dairy Bar so many times.
    This speaks to my heart and my soul, in so many ways- how I cherish my Gracie, how she takes care of me in more ways than I could ever count, and how she’s ready, I’m not, but I’m proud of what she’s become, despite the burnt nuggets and way too many Happy Meals. And how I’m blessed and beyond grateful that God truly makes up for what I’ve done not-so-greatly…
    Thank you for your words, your real, your life, your heart…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jenny, it does seem like the time flew by, doesn’t it? I miss those “tow-headed” days on occasion but I’m so enjoying the young adults they’ve grown into. I love getting Jake’s perspective on what’s happening in the world or hearing about his big plans for life. I’m sure Gracie shares the same with you. Looking so forward to see where this journey takes them…and us! Means the world to me that you stopped by and took the time to read and comment. Wishing you and Gracie the very best in making this transition. I think we made need to start a support group!

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  4. Rhonda

    As a single mom of a son in Sanford , NC I can relate to everything you have written – so beautifully – I might add! My son is 27 and is out on his own now, but I have experienced many of the thoughts and feelings that you expressed. I wish you the best of luck in the coming months – you will get through this – with a lot of help from wine , family, friends and activity – and did I say wine? I would love to meet you someday – I know and adore your mom. I was a friend of Frankie Woodell’s (a great mom!) and sadly, I met your mom through Frankie’s illness.

    Thank you for your blog – for a self proclaimed introvert you sure know how to share some deep feelings.

    Lisa Meadows

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa, I would love to meet you too! You may just be the perfect person to help me navigate this new road I’m going to be traveling. I’m excited for his future, but know those first months will be difficult. Until then, he’s keeping me entertained in typical Jake fashion. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for telling me you know where I’m coming from. So often, you write these very personal and things and then later wonder if anyone is going to be able to relate. Your words are much appreciated!

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  5. I’m officially a member of the Jake Stephens Fan Club. Your kids rock…just like their mama. And, yes, do savor these last few months because I miss my freshman-in-college daughter so much that it physically hurts. She’s doing great and LOVES it, which makes the transition easier, but still…

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Where would I be without you? I trust what you’re saying about the pain being physical. I don’t doubt it at all. Such a double edged sword, this successful parenting thing. These kids are my everything. I’m so thankful that when I think of all the things I’ve screwed up in my lifetime, they aren’t on the list. Thank you for being a friend, an adviser, and a motivator. You are adored and appreciated.

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  6. Hi Tom! Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this little piece of mommy heartbreak. This next chapter of actually letting them grow up is a tricky one. I hope that Jake has learned to “fish” well enough to look after me one day!

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  7. I read this really quick because I’m suppose to be somewhere, but couldn’t stop!!!! 😀😀😀 i loved it but didn’t soak it all in so will read again and I’m definitely giving this to my BFF who just had her first baby boy at 41!!! Love you girl!! Awesome

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  8. Rhonda- I love your articles and I actually use several of them in my Human Growth & Development class when we talk about parenting issues. This particular one touches me personally because I too was a single parent raising a son, trying to be both mother and father and completely clueless as to whether I was doing the right thing. We were like a team as he grew up, we faced challenges together, we were very close and we could talk about anything. The thing with parenting is that you never really know the results of your efforts until your child is an adult. My son, who was 3 when I divorced, is now 28 and is expecting his first child in January. A couple of years ago he experienced some problems and the results were devastating to our relationship. He didn’t want anything to do with me, his step-father, his step-sister but I told him I would always be here for him. We exchanged texts until his girlfriend blocked me. In October he text me that he married his girlfriend and they were expecting a baby. So, after almost 2 years I saw my son again. I realized how much I missed him and I still need him in my life. I also could not live with myself knowing I didn’t do everything in my power to be the best grandmother to his child. I think he realized this too. I’m not sure what will happen once his son is born. His wife still wants nothing to do with me. But I still have to try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keri, my heart goes out to you. I think sometimes about my two growing up and finding someone and wonder what it will be like if we don’t connect. I’m thrilled to hear that the two of you are back in touch. Figuring out where our place is once they’re married has got to be tough. A wise man once told me that the only thing we can’t get back in this life is time. It struck a chord with me and I’ve learned to swallow my pride in many situations where I wouldn’t have years ago. I hope you find the strength to keep extending that olive branch. A grandchild is something you don’t want to miss out on if you can help it. I’m so hopeful that, in time, you and his wife can find some common ground. Who knows? The holiday season and the new grandbaby might just be the perfect recipe for healing. Best of luck with everything. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. I love hearing from people like you
      .

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  9. Rhonda…OMG, we must be friends!!! I started my morning reading your parenting blog – absolutely loved it, shared it, and perused further to find this blog about you and your son – it brought me to tears.
    My son is my world and also my best friend – my first born and a big brother to identical twin sisters 2.9yrs younger than him. As a single Mom through his formative years into the teen years, I also struggled with him missing a father-figure and enrolled him in Boy Scouts and other ‘boy’ things to fill that void. There are so many things that I coulda, woulda, shoulda done better and, at times, wish I could – I know the discrepancies of my childhood, good, bad, and ugly, have made me who I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing…but it’s a whole new world when you’re a parent!

    My son is 23 now, graduated from the University of Arizona last May, and is now living back at home until he starts grad school next year. I couldn’t be more proud of him and the man he has become. He always thanks me for the smallest things which shows me that he has appreciated me through the good and bad times.

    I worry about his sisters, they are not as appreciative at this time and fall into your first post about parenting i.e. popularity, material things that sparkle, etc. Mind you, their father is MIA, hasn’t seen them in over five years and sends money like it’s water to appease them making me efforts to teach them to save money and not expect things null and void. As a 20yr old, money is pretty and solves all problems, LOL.

    Anyhow…thank you so very much for your blogs – I am now an official reader and can’t wait for the next one! If you’re ever in Arizona, let’s grab a beverage and carry on a forever long conversation about parenting and all the fun involved! :o)

    -julie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julia, we most definitely could be friends! Our stories are WAY similar, only without the financial support. But that’s a story for a long dinner and some Cosmos! I do think girls are more difficult than boys, and I’m sure there are people that would hang me up for saying that, but most of my friends agree that they’re more combative and temperamental during the teen years. My daughter and I joke that when Jake goes to college this summer there won’t be anyone to keep us from throat punching each other. BTW, if you didn’t read the piece “When That Time Comes”, check it out. As someone with daughters and a son, you will probably identify. Stay in touch! I’ve never been to Arizona, so it’s on my list of “to do’s”. I’m in NC, so if you find yourself here we’ll also make it happen. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many new bff’s I have from this blog. It’s the very best part of doing it! Thanks so much for reading, but especially for taking the time to comment. I love not feeling like a pregnant nun 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think too many people would hang you for saying that you think girls are harder. I couldn’t agree more!! I even tell people that I would take 10 boys over a girl any day but that I absolutely love my princess. I am looking forward to the day where she isn’t so moody & combative (don’t know if it will ever come…lol)but no matter what, I love her soooo much & couldn’t imagine my life without her 💖

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  10. Loved this story! I am on both sides. My oldest who is a boy just graduated college in December & my daughter who was born June 25, 1999 is about to head out into the world like your son Jake.
    I started out as a single parent. It was just me & my son facing the world together. I knew that by making the choice to keep & not put him up for adoption, I was possibly going to be single the rest of my life. That didn’t happen. I met a man who didn’t mind that I had a child & after 2 years of being together we married 2 months shy of my son’s 5th birthday. I went on to have 2 children with him. My daughter who is 17 & my youngest, a boy who is 16.
    I can relate to raising a boy as my husband took the backseat when it came to my oldest. My husband coached his little league teams & did some disciplining but I was the one who shaped him. I have a very different relationship with him than I do with my other 2 kids. He trusted me when I said “you can come to me with anything”. I am the one that had to teach him about the “taboo” subjects but I was ok with that.
    I also learned that when the magical number 18 is reached & they go off to school, that is when you worry about them the most as you stated in your article. I was to naive to realize that ahead of time.
    Thank you so much for sharing your stories & your thoughts with us. It’s refreshing to know that we’re not alone in our thoughts & fears. I look forward to reading more of your stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s the most conflicting feeling in the world. The sheer joy of watching them soar, coupled with the sadness of their absence. I’m going to be a puddle for a few months, I’m sure. Thank you for reading it. It’s from the heart.

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  11. The world has all kinds of families and relationships. It’s nice to see one very different from mine seem to produce a really cool kid. Hang in there, mom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Barbara! He’s one of a kind. Don’t know where I’m going to be in a few months when I’m learning to live without his daily humor. Yesterday, I got a lovely Mother’s Day card….in Spanish. Haha! Swear, I don’t know how I got so lucky!

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