Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.
― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary
My firstborn left for college last week. The grief caught me by surprise. While I love my child, as any good mother does, we haven’t had an easy time together. As my greatest teacher, he pressed and pushed me in uncomfortable ways. He demanded I gaze deep at my assumptions and expectations and make some changes. We had a rough time of it and the challenge persisted until his senior year of high school. But something broke loose. I relaxed. He relaxed. We got along. I stopped being so afraid.
The grief of his graduation and subsequent leaving was not unexpected, but the magnitude leveled me. I have never been a clingy mother, believing the travails of the public school system and wayward friends (within reason, of course) were his greatest teachers. I trusted in the ways of the world and the social apparatus, that they would correct any problematic big fish/little pond tendencies. I was attentive and involved, aware of what I could be aware of, keeping tabs on him, requiring all the things parents require of their teenage boys. I believed him sometimes. And I questioned him all the time. My mother-gut fired with average frequency, investigating on demand with plenty middle of the night cellphone stings. I lost lots of sleep, no more than any other decent parent.
And here I was, deposited at the threshold of grief. The shockwaves of loss rattling my collected demeanor, rendering me unable to speak without choking up. What was this? My child is only forty miles away? I can see him whenever I want. He’s well and excited and responsible.
Three days after his birth I left on a quick grocery store run, leaving him home with Eric. I wasn’t gone long but I was so sad. No longer was he a fixture in my body. No longer was my identity umbilically tied to his. He was now outside my womb.
But as every good mother does, we re-create the womb appropriate with each stage of our children’s lives. I constructed a new womb for my infant – replete with a crib and flannel sheets, bonding, and breastmilk on demand, a warm nurturing home with a sweet puppy, along with infant friends who helped bond the mothers.
And I continued to build wombs, appropriate for each new stage – a toddler womb and a preschool womb, a grade school womb and an odd-shaped middle school womb. The wombs were my offering, my gift, my hope for him to develop into the person at each stage he was to become.
I am a circle. I am a woman who envelops. I hold. My children feel and know my touch. Sometimes it is playful and sometimes it is firm, but my touch is always love. And it is translated as such. I am also a pastor. To hold is my work. I carry, I bear. I am strong and capable of holding great burden. This is my truth, my everyday. I do not fear the complex, I feed on the complex, tumbling and observing as a kaleidoscope of beauty. I am not afraid.
The feminine is weighty, divine, capable of stretching and holding. The feminine knows how to rush in headlong, bringing relief and rest and nourishment. The feminine also discerns, knowing when a particular pain must remain, for our rushing in may short-circuit that which is necessary to bring ultimate healing. Our salve may undermine the good work of suffering. While some burdens are relentless taskmasters, others can be gracious teachers. The feminine knows the difference. The mothers calculate this difference.
My child left. And I don’t want him back for any prolonged amount of time, just yet. I want the world to do its work. I want him to bear the burdens of discomfort and hard work and maybe a small bout or two of hopelessness. I want him to build resilience and grit through sleepless nights and loneliness. I want him to know the burden of pain and grief.
But I also want him to thrive and succeed and learn how to be a good human. I want him to become who he was designed to become, and for this reason this mother must step out. This mother is out of a job, in the old ways. The job description must be re-created and I will do my part while he does his.
My work of womb-restorer and womb-rebuilder has been fulfilled.
I am proud.