So just as a clarifier, I’m a super-emotional person on a good day. Like, I’m the type who sees a cute Huggies ad or a commercial for assisted living and instantaneously loses control over my tear ducts. And God forbid I hit any kind of milestone with either of my kids and I’m even more pathetic. I guess you could say I’m a real feeler. Lately, though, as I count down the days until my youngest graduates from high school, I’ve been in a weird emotional headspace that not even I’m used to, and it’s got me feeling more than a little overwhelmed in the heart region.
After over 20 years of waking up to days full of kid-centered thoughts and chores and conversations and responsibilities, it’s all about to come to a brutally hard stop when my baby graduates. And my mind and my heart are waging a civil war against each other — both fighting for control over my emotional infrastructure. And I’m just trying to make it to the “Big Day” maintaining at least some semblance of control over myself. But it’s getting tough.
I mean, I’ve literally been on the verge of bawling my face off at any given second whenever I let myself go down the graduation rabbit hole. Because even though my logical mind has always known that both of my girls would eventually reach the end of the line in their public-school journeys, my irrational mind never actually thought it would happen. It always just seemed so very far away. And I guess that’s because we get into such a groove of raising and nurturing and looking after our kids every day that we almost can’t believe that there’ll ever come a time when we’re not responsible for their day-to-day lives. But that time does come. And the ripple effect of the emotions that come with that milestone are a tsunami the likes of which my personal heart has never seen.
In retrospect, it’s almost stupid how fast it all really goes by. Because as fast as everyone tells you it’s going to go, it goes shockingly faster. Even as far back as those first few hours as a new mom in the hospital, people started saying the ol’ Just you wait ... before you know it, she’ll be in college and then out on her own. And I remember being like, F-you, she’s only 37-minutes-old. Can you just gimme a minute?! But the irony was, they were all right. And it’s the most profound truth I’ve learned about parenthood.
We assume we’ve got all the time in the world to soak up and enjoy all these precious, beautiful moments, but we don’t. There’s a time limit and once we reach that marker, which for me is this weekend, things change. Drastically. And once we’re in the midst of that change, the reality hits hard, sort of like a brick to the forehead.
Remember that scene in Poltergeist, when the mom is running down the endless hallway that keeps stretching further and further away? Ya, well, I’m that mom and motherhood seemed like that endless hallway in the beginning. Until it wasn’t. Because I just hit the other side face first. And I’m dazed and confused and in total disbelief that there was actually a door at the other end. Cause here I am, standing in front of it, petrified and exhilarated all at the same time about what’s on the other side.
Look, I’m not gonna lie to you, those 18 years that most of us get to raise and nurture and teach our kids seem limitless when we’re all starting out. The days are long and the sensation that we’re trapped in a continuous loop of eating and sleeping and pooping and chasing seems like it may never end. But then it does. And before we have even a minute to catch our breath and steady ourselves, we settle into a new and totally different routine that feels just as never-ending. Because even though all these stages of caring for our young kids are unique, they all still involve active and daily care of small humans who live under our roof and depend on us for most of the big-ticket stuff we all need to survive.
But then, almost without warning, they’re grown and making their own decisions and spending most of their time with people who aren’t us. And then, just as suddenly, they’re standing on the outermost edge of the beginning of the rest of their lives and we’re like wait, what? How is this even possible? Yet, here we are. And even though we always knew it was coming, we’re still never fully prepared when we get here.
So here I am, spending most of my time these days reflecting on my life with my kids all under the same roof, trying to imagine exactly how it’s going to feel once our little nest is finally empty. Because we’re so damn close. And as much as I think I have a pretty good idea of what lies ahead, I know I really don’t. I can’t know. In fact, the only thing I do know is that it’s going to be a total crap shoot and I’m just going to have to take it all as it comes and be open to the unchartedness of it all. Because it is what it is, and it’ll be what it’ll be and I just have to roll with it.
That’s why I’m giving myself permission to be sad and excited and nostalgic and all the other emotions in between. I’m gonna let the tears come and not apologize for them. I’m gonna give myself as long as it takes to settle in to this new normal and I’m not going to judge myself. Because life is about to change in a big and dramatic way and while I know it’s all good, it’s still supercalifragilistic weird.
As long as my kids are happy, though, and excited about their own futures, I know I’ll be good too. Eventually. Plus, at least for the moment, my house is still full until the fall and I’ve still got a little more time to get my head straight. Although, now that I think of it, I’m not sure there’ll ever be enough time for that. But I’m gonna give it my best shot.
— Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, Hot Moms Club, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.