I’m on vacation now. At my happy place – the beach. I’ve been here for five days with another seven to go. Usually by now I’ve relaxed into beach life, feeling free and mellow, but not this year. In the weeks leading up to this vacation I was a bundle of anxiety – the last month of the school year was hectic for all three of my kids, but especially for my oldest who graduated from high school. I saw my coming vacation as a time when the worst of balancing all our lives would be over and I would be able to breathe again, not worrying about forgetting something important. But the anxiety of the last month hasn’t dissipated with the completion of the school year, and I think I’m starting to figure out why.
First of all, as director of christian education at a large congregation, the end of the Sunday school year, confirmation program, Bible studies and book groups brings a shift from execution to planning. In truth, planning is always ongoing, and what we’re doing in the fall has been in the works already for months. But the building is a bit quieter and my nights are much more open. HOWEVER, our congregation runs a Vacation Bible School – VBS – which will start at the end of July. This is my second year running VBS and this year I’m having problems finding enough adults to cover all the kids we’re expecting – and I’m quite anxious about this. It’s hovering over me. Ideally we would take our vacation after VBS, but we don’t have control over when we get our beach house (it belongs to a friend and we use it when they’re not). So here I sit, worrying about something that may (or may not) hit the fan when I get home. I definitely have my work cut out for me when I get back. Not really conducive to a mellow beach vacation.
But the biggest looming reason for my anxiety has to do with that daughter who graduated high school two weeks ago. I’m not sad or weepy about my little girl growing up and leaving the nest. Unlike the moms who cried when their children started kindergarten I was glad to see mine go. It’s always been a joy of mine to see my kids reach new levels of independence from me. What I’m feeling now it not grief, at least not a part of grief I recognize.
I’m AFRAID. I’m afraid for her for a hundred different reasons, some of which make sense, and some of which I’m sure are demons of my own making. Problem is, until she gets to school I’m not sure which are which. I just don’t know.
This girl is the very definition of hard work. Her work ethic puts me to shame. Her senior year of high school she took two AP classes AND worked 20-30 hours a week to save money for college. She’ll get the school/fun/life management stuff figured out I’m sure. It may be a little bumpy. I’m in my 50’s and there are times when it’s still a little bumpy for me!
Maybe it’s got to do with the fact she’s so incredibly stubborn and so sure she knows it all. The past few months (years really!), I’ve said to myself on SO many occasions, “I’ll be SO glad when she’s off to school!” But now that stubbornness scares me. She’s so convinced her transition will be seamless, so sure of herself, and yet at the same time I still see her as so dependent on me that it’s concerning. For example, here at the beach, she found out her friends got their AP exam scores and she wanted to look up hers. Since turning in her school laptop (yes, we were lucky, and yes in the next month we have to buy her a computer), she’s shared mine, and threw a fit when I didn’t know her college board username and password. “Hello? We’re on vacation and I have my little book of usernames and passwords AT HOME. Plus, it’s not MY fault YOU can’t remember YOUR username and password dear.” I’m her fallback, and she’s going to have to figure out a new fallback plan, at least for some things. I mean, she can still call me on the phone for some stuff, but I won’t be there in person. She hates asking others for help but she’s going to have to learn, and that lesson might be hard.
And… she’s going to school in a city – a BIG city. We live in the suburbs. My husband and I are not city people. Our daughter has never had to figure out public transportation in her life. Even when driving she uses the gps to get her where she’s going and is not very good at paying attention to her surroundings to find her way. She’s going to have to learn that’s for sure. The trial and error of figuring her way around the outside of the campus and being safe has me tied a bit in knots. So she’s not just her leaving home and having to learn to manage school/life, she’s also moving to a completely different kind of world.
She’s excited, and slightly ignorant of the challenges in front of her. That ignorance can definitely work to her advantage. It can help her be bold to move forward, but it can also set her up for failure. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. I have an inkling of what she doesn’t know and that’s what has me a bundle of nerves and fear. And when I try to tell her (just a little), she doesn’t want to hear it. What do I know? I’m just her mother.
In the end each of our children has to forge their own path – celebrate their own successes and survive and hopefully thrive from their failures. My “outsiders” view of this side of parenthood was a weepy grieving over our lost little children, going off into the great world without us. Now that I’m approaching an “insiders” view – at least for me – it’s about anxiety and fear – wanting desperately for them to be okay and knowing there is little we can really do to prevent the hard times they will face. It’s like the first time she took the car out solo, except this time it’s not just for a few hours. This is her LIFE.
The stakes are the highest they could possibly be. The rewards may be great, or maybe not. I guess my job right now is to manage my anxiety and fear without having them affect her. It’s my job to let her fly, hoping I’ve given her all the skills she needs to maneuver the flight. But what do I do with my anxiety and fear? I suppose after the first few months away it won’t be as consuming as it feels now. At least I hope not!
In the meantime, I really needed this vacation, and the beach isn’t the medicine it’s always been. The first step is recognizing where this impending sense of doom has been coming from. Now that I’m getting some clarity maybe that will help. All I know is I need to relax a bit because in a month I’ve got VBS and then my daughter’s moving day!
For those of you sending kids off to college – or off to live on their own – any helpful hints for me on managing the letting go?