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When you give your children room to fly, don’t expect a return

On a recent holiday we had a family gathering. Our family is large, growing baby by baby, and it has become hard to find a time and place to huddle and break bread together. Not everyone could make it this particular day, but that is how life moves along, the family thread extending and being stitched into new smiles and spaces. The turnout we did have was splendid with lots of crazy splashing, terrifically seasoned burgers and deep conversation. I sat in my chair, skin tan and warmed from the sun, and let the day soak into my bones. We donít do this often enough, I thought.

Times like these I let my mind reminisce on the days that my three offspring were still with me. I could pick their screams out of the feral horde that was the grandchildren and marveled at how their voices seemed to rise above the crowd in my mind. I know now that itís a motherís brain that hones in on what their kids are doing at any given second, willing the shrill piercing to stop so she can focus on the conversation at hand. I really did think that the timbre of my childrenís voices would never quiet and disappear from my earshot.

One of my sisters asked me that particular day as the bedlam of an impromptu baseball game played by grown children raged on the lawn, if itís weird for my kids not to be present. I thought for a minute, having just told my husband I missed them on days like this, and told her yes and no, the ache to hear their voices agonizing for a second and then floating away.

Each face floated before me as I thought about how they return at different times of the year, always deftly slipping back into the empty space they left behind. Family is like a squishy piece of Play-Doh, accepting of all pieces that break off and form other things. You can make a long rope of snake or tiny little balls rolled in the palm of your hand, but when itís time to put the Play-Doh back in the can, it forms one yielding mass again, enveloping all its pieces.

Our oldest daughter has been gone the longest, having slipped away to college in a sunny state and never moving back. Seven years have come and gone since she vacated the west-facing dormer upstairs, her bed still sitting sentinel along with high school trophies and random sweatshirts growing stale in her old dresser. She herself comes home regularly to visit, coming in like a whirlwind, growing more successful by the day with the self-made clothing company she formed with her own sweat and blood. Sheís a traveler, planning trips with the money she herself earned through sheer force of will, able to go when she wants because sheís self-employed. Sheís a force that I miss, and my admiration of her tenacity floors me daily.

Our middle daughter will suddenly be a senior in college this fall. She has been home each summer. This child, my quietest one, the one who toils at whatever job sheís given, who squirrels her money away and wants to live simply, is at present working in a refugee camp in Greece. There is no organization they went through, simply six friends deciding to give up part of their summer and make the plan to come together of their own volition. I have given her up to the world she longs to give comfort to, the ones who need an extending hand.

She breathes fire and peace, wrapped into one fierce bundle of a woman who wonít settle for whatís easy. In talking with her while sheís been in the camp, while many of us debate and decide who can and canít come here, I learned new things. She said to me, chuckling, while I lay on my comfortable bed FaceTiming her, ďMom, the media only tells you what they want you to hear.Ē This advice Iíll chew on as I await her return later this summer.

My youngest, my boy, the one who took off to New York City to attend film school and find his path, his room is empty this summer. His leaving has possibly been the hardest on me. Iím sure itís because heís the youngest, the last one to vacate and leave a vacuum of memories in his wake. He will be a junior this fall, toiling away at learning his craft. He scratched and fought for a place in the hardscrabble streets of New York this summer, nothing easy being given. He found and works hard at a job in an upscale, second-hand clothing store as well as falling into a summer resident advisor job at the school. He is busy, and we are glad, though sometimes I sit in his room and look around, soccer medals and awards gleaming, and I reflect on his face, which has stretched and matured into its own. His voice was the loudest at any family gathering, and I miss it.

So is it strange not to have my children with me anymore? The question hangs in the balance and then I blow it away with a poof. From the moment they were born we were raising them to leave us, to find the world and not cling to the familiar. We are living that now, and I turn to my husbandís still-young face and smile. We did just what we set out to do; we gave them wings to fly away and not be afraid to stay there.

Published: July 14, 2016
New Article ID: 2016707149997