After plowing through Organic Chemistry (I know this has something to do with the structure of molecules because I looked it up on Wikipedia) and the likes of other pre-med sciences, my son recently took the MCAT (Medical College Aptitude Test). I watched the clock on my iPhone the entire time he was taking the exam. I feel no shame.
At 6 a.m. I hoped he was up and eating a good breakfast. At 7 a.m. I imagined him getting into his car. I prayed that his car started and that traffic to the testing center was light. At 7:30 I knew he was at the computer (hard to believe you take one of the most important tests of your life without a number two pencil). And then I tried to channel calm straight to his exam chair in Virginia. You know, I’m a mom; I have that kind of power. At 11:30 I received the text “Annnnnd done!” I needed a nap.
Thirty applications later, he won’t know anything until the middle of 2014 what his future holds. I will try to protect him from the anxiety I sometimes feel during this, his journey to medical school. I’m a mom. I will lie awake at night, feeling a bit nauseated and in occasional possession of a large unwieldy pit in my stomach. I know this won’t ever go away—not completely. There will always be something our children want and they won’t always get it and as mothers we have to acknowledge this. We have to prepare ourselves for the moment when we know for sure that we would give up everything just to see our children’s dreams come true. But we can’t and it wouldn’t help anyway.
I have committed to being the kind of parent who tries to stay attached to my children without placing a choke collar around their necks. I cry at airports and even when they close the doors of their cars and back down the driveway. I save the wailing for when I am alone—I am clear that the tears are not always about them and that growing up is hard enough without having to carry your mother’s pain and anxiety in your pockets.
Loss begins to show itself when our children are still tiny babies. They get up on their tiny feet and walk not only towards us, but away too. Before they are a year old they are looking out and reaching for the world. Their worlds include us, but we get smaller and smaller. It is the way it is supposed to be—even to the point of being able to move continents away (as one of my children did for a year) and still know the people you love are there for you.
I have lived through my children’s ups and downs. Sometimes it’s a subtle ride, while at others I feel that I need an airsickness bag. At times their happiness and pain permeates my being to such an extent that I lose my separateness. It is so hard to distinguish our pain from theirs, because at times they are so entangled and enmeshed. Quite frankly, the hardship of comings and goings, and the weight of the anxiety that stirs up have a lot to do with our own experiences as children.
Being a parent involves lots of watching, waiting and worrying. And it doesn’t end.
I’m steadfast in my efforts not to burden them with my pain but I will probably always cry when they leave. I will feel mother-love pain when life doesn’t make their dreams come true. I will watch clocks and not sleep at night. I will remind myself to work diligently to love them but not burden them. I am teaching both my children and myself how to hold emotions gently in our hands. It is what grown-ups are supposed to do.
P.S. Frequents naps are a requirement.
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