For the past few weeks, I've woken up with a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. The 'before exam' feeling. A myriad of emotions consuming me the entire day, surprising me. I can detect feelings of dread, anxiety, selfishness, happiness, wistfulness, pride and hopefulness.
I remember a moment from 18 yrs ago, pacing in the labour room of the hospital, trying to be brave. Trying not to curse all the ones who had raved about babies and conveniently forgotten to mention how excruciating the pain would be. It is a pain that knocks the socks off you and makes you want to punch everyone around you. There's a nurse somewhere who's lived to tell the tale. At one point after a painful spasm, I got up, and told my mom "I can't do this, let's go home". Mom's fiercest "Have you gone mad?" look and the next spasm sent me crawling back on that bed. It was a long moment of weakness and after 4 hours I managed to deliver a scrawny looking baby boy. That, then, was the bravest thing I had done. Or so I thought. 5 years later I did a repeat performance and had my second son. Proved one thing to me that TIME played its part in dulling the intensity of the "I'm going to kill someone if this doesn't stop" kind of pain and makes you focus more on the "Oooh, look he smiled, he walked, he burped" moments.
I had many similar moments of breaking down, recently. Of giving up midway between packing stuff for my 18yrold, who would be leaving home to study in another country. His bags did get packed eventually. And he did leave. And I did smile through it all.
Everyone asks me "So how does it feel, How are you? "
" I miss him", I answer truthfully.
They console me in various ways:
"At least you have another kid to distract you", they say
"With time, it will pass" they say
"Be happy and proud, he will do well" they say
"At least you had him this long, mine left at 16", they say
I am grateful, I'm really proud of him and my mind knows it. My mind rationalizes with its predictable logic : "It's a good learning experience, he's worked hard for it, You knew this day would arrive eventually. Be happy. It's just a temporary good bye, and he will be home during vacation time."
That's what everyone says, don't they?
But how do I convince my heart about it?
How do i make it understand that things will no longer be the same?
That 18 years of being together cannot be taken care of with a goodbye and a hug.
That I will spend the next 4 years and possibly more with a prayer on my lips, of sending positive vibes into the universe, of thinking nonstop: "Please be nice to him, please let him make sweet friends, please let him not fall sick, please this.. please that".
That it will take time for me to see his empty room and not feel the wistfulness.
Of seeing his favorite food and not think of him.
Of cooking meals for three instead of four.
Of having silly conversations
Of troubling him just because I can
Seeing my 18 yrold off to college, on his way to an independant responsible adulthood, is a 'hard to describe' feeling. You feel immense joy, you feel pain, you want to hold onto the past a bit longer yet you want your boy to blaze ahead. You feel guilty of the time you should have enjoyed him more, than worrying about whether he fitted a particular mould or not. You've started to enjoy his company again and are loathe to let him go, but you don't want to be the one holding him back.
Once upon a time, all I needed, were my arms to keep him safe, NOW, all I can hope for, is the shelter of an unseen hand over him.
Does it hurt? It does. Would I have it any other way? Probably not.
There are so many things that i have taken for granted. There are so many things that I will have to say my goodbye to. And that takes time.
His "whats for lunch today, Amma, hope it's something good?".
His dry humor.
His quiet ways.
His infuriating habit of leaving his wardrobe doors open because he's conserving his energy!
His absent minded antics.
His shrug and his monosyllabic ways.
His rolling eyes at some 'lame' joke I crack
Those little moments of a day which mean so much to me.
The new stuff he tells me about
The lovely change in the relationship between us
How do i say goodbye to all this and so much more?
And as I listen to my boy's voice over the phone, hearing him talk about his dorm and college, I try to bring a smile into my voice, while a hundred things run through my mind, "He sounds so tired. Did he eat? Has he made a friend? Will he put a sheet on his bed (what?)? ". Love is such a strange emotion. It makes you laugh and say all the right things, while your heart is breaking inside.
Motherhood has trained me well. It also brings into perspective my parents' love. Of how hard it must have been for them to let each of us go. Letting my son go is no doubt the bravest thing I have done so far.
Time is magical. Just as it had dulled the pain of labour, so has it filtered my memories of his journey from a baby to adulthood. It has taken away the angst ridden days, and left me with so many happy moments. In a little while I will get used to a new way of living, using modern means of communication to interact with him. It won't be the same but it will be better than nothing. And soon I will be one of those who will console another parent with soothing words of advice.
And in 5 years, when the next one sets out, saying goodbye will pain just as much.
And life, from now on, will be a series of 'welcomes' and 'goodbyes', of visits with deadlines.
But then time helps you adjust. And I'm going to take all the time I need.
Because Time is my new best friend.