September. Usually I dive into the newness and change, the fresh beginning, energized by clean sheets of paper and new pens. But this year, for the first time, the month settled like fog. The kids bounded right in -- a first! -- and I settled into a gloom that looked darker each day.
One morning a friend in her 50's, the kind who sweeps you into conversation and treats you like the only person in the room -- looked me in the eye and said, "what's lost for you this fall?"
I felt the question smack even as I blew it off -- nothing's really lost, nothing big, it's just transition, normal adjustment. And I kept moving.
The gloom moved from my head and lodged itself in my body -- my back ached, my stomach hurt, and still I had no words for it. After three days of sleeplessness, tossing and turning, achiness, I prayed that God would help me name the block and move it out of my body.
Later that morning, I sat down and made my list. I know that every change, even the best ones, bring loss. But what was lost? I listed all sorts of things about summer, even the little things that sounded stupid. Write it all. I kept the pen moving. There were the long days and loose bedtimes, the freedom, the togetherness. I wrote and wrote. Looking at the list, I saw that what underlay almost everything was protection and control.
Dammit. I was again grieving the impossibility of protection.
In summer, I was with my kids all the time. Even during camp weeks, the days were shorter than school days and no work came home. I knew whom they were with, what social interactions were like; I could even pick and choose those interactions. There was time to make goals and hit them, to provide the kids with small successes. I watched one of them in particular bloom into a new identity and confidence that had been lacking. It was a time of controlled experiments, adventure, of my little birds back up in the nest.
And then school started. Parents weren't allowed to come to campus the first day to take pictures (which we've done every year) because we're in a holding school and there wasn't enough parking. We weren't -- and still aren't -- allowed to pick our kids up from school afterwards for the same reason. Straight off the bat, I felt shoved away from my kids without control.
After months that felt healing, especially for one of my kids, I suddenly couldn't trot alongside anymore and help the processing. I had to kiss noses at the bus stop and say things like, you've got this, and then sit at the dinner table and listen to how there's no one to play with at recess, listen to loneliness.
One of my mom's many mantras is children must struggle. Of course she's right -- a fair bit of life involves struggling, and we've got to have the chutzpa to tackle our way through it and find North again. But in practice, to standby as our kids try to wiggle their feet into the wrong shoe for three minutes or cry their way through writing a sentence or wander around the playground alone -- it's harder.
So what was lost? What did I believe in these waves of loss? Ironically as I was making my list (sitting in church), I was listening to a sermon on whole-hearted living, about how God fills us, makes us whole, is abundant. Looking at my list I could see my heart clutching those three kids, desperately wanting to keep them safe, protected from too much exposure, astronomically bad decisions, friends who hurt them, kids who are cruel. I wanted to keep them "safe" right here with me, summer to fall to winter and on. I wanted them to stay little. Because the fact was that I wasn't just sad about their growing up and out, I was scared, too.
You know how there is thinking and then there is background thinking -- the kind of thinking we do semi-consciously, underneath the rest. Lots of times the background thinking springs from a hunch or feeling, and we don't know it's a bogus foundation until the whole tower topples, and it's exposed.
Well somewhere in the background I was building on scarcity (read this by Brene Brown). I was believing that things were ok here, but out there, my kids didn't have enough -- not enough of God, of Love, of resilience to tackle what might come. I was moving around on a set where there was no abundance.
It's amazing how afraid we can be without knowing it.
The fact is, it's hard to release our kids, and to keep releasing them. For me it's been hard at each turn, even the ones I was dying for (please for the love, stop sucking your finger! start using a fork! stop clinging to me when I leave!) and then one day they get on the bus and don't even wave. It's good, but it's loss. It's hard to release these people we love.
I was talking to a woman the other day who has two daughters in high school (a really cool woman I like to stand near), and I started talking about my pockets of fall grief. Her whole face fell. Her oldest leaves for college next fall. I almost can't breathe when I think about it, she said. This doesn't stop.
It's hard to let God comfort us when we don't know we hurt.
These days, I'm feeling the hurt, which mostly means I walk around a little more tender and vulnerable than usual, which isn't my favorite. I've cried in front of more people this month than in a long time because I'm just kind of leaky -- so much for composure. And when I feel the slip of time moving, hear Maeve's lisp (thith ith delithith), I'm asking God to help me love those times, those little faces and thoughts, instead of grip them, and to remind me that this is not a life of scarcity, even as it changes.