Letting Go

blue steel

It is 4:30 am. For reasons I don’t know, my daughter came home with a friend around 4. Our dog Zee had a fit. I was already awake, having transferred to the couch downstairs when my dear husband’s snoring proved twice as strong as my earplugs. I shouted at the dog to quiet.  My son woke up and shouted at Zee. Eventually the dog quieted. My daughter did whatever she came for and left.  

That’s the last time.

Tomorrow night, sometime after Game of Thrones ends its first episode of the season, my daughter and her brother will go home to their own place.

I have been waiting for this day for four years. When my daughter packed up for a year of college in Santa Cruz, I was excited for her. DH (dear husband, dear heart) and I flew with her to California to set her up in her dorm room. For those few days, I contemplated my age and my choices. Surfers surfed, and I watched them, mesmerized by their skill and audacity.  I would never have that. I had made different choices with my youth. I had applied and been accepted to UCSC but chose a college back East instead. It’s cold in Massachusetts – what the hell was I thinking? I wanted a good school, a name school, one that would be impressive. I thought that was important. I didn’t know I hated the cold. I didn’t know how depressed I would become – dreaming of walking barefoot out in the snow.

One of the best choices I ever made was marrying my DH and having these two kids with him. Another of my best choices was settling in Albuquerque in this house on the bosque. Third great choice was my career as a teacher, which I love and which I believe is who I am: at my core, I am a teacher.

I’m not a surfer. I tried it once, finally, a year and a half ago in Panama where we went so I could lead, with my daughter, a Nia and Yoga retreat. We visited a friend I have known since I was five; we grew up together in Southern California. In all those years in So Cal, I never learned to surf. But on retreat, with an excellent teacher, our entire group tried it out. I wasn’t bad, though the rest of my family were all much more confident and skilled. I’d get scared and instead of embracing the ride, I’d back off. Basically, the idea is that we do out in the ocean is what we do in life. There’s some truth to that but some bullshit, too. There’s plenty I have risked and dared: there’s no way to commit to a spouse and raise a family without being willing to take a long, long ride.

We were surfing in the white water, and it was more shallow than I’d realized. As I lost my balance, I threw myself off the board into the water. I hit my tail hard on the bottom. I was sore for days. I felt so stupid. I had over-reacted. I do not have what it takes to be adventurous. I never backpacked in the Himalayas. It’s looking very likely, here at 54, that I will not become a surfer or a backpacker or a hundred other choices.

I keep looking back. What kind of runner could I have been in my 20s or 30s? How strong might I have become if I’d been weight lifting then? I keep looking back even five years ago, when my kids were in high school and one of my jobs was being their mom and we were a unit, a family of four.  

When we said our goodbyes and left our daughter in Santa Cruz, I was bereft. I sobbed on the floor of our hotel room. We flew home, away from the captivating surf, and it was just the three of us, my husband, son, and I. I knew the four of us would be together again, obviously, but not  as we had been. That stage of life was over. I passed her empty room and sobbed before dragging myself to bed.

Then I was fine. No, really. The next morning, I woke up and felt clear, steady. I didn’t need to cry anymore. I missed my daughter but I was busy with my life, and the guys and I settled into our own rhythm. It was kind of nice. I knew at some point both kids would be gone, and I was even starting to look forward to that. Since then, Siobhan has come home, left for Amsterdam, come home, left for New Orleans, and come home again. She plans to leave again.

I thought I’d taken care of myself after hitting my tail in Panama, but my body must have held on to that injury. Whatever back and hip and nerve injury has kept me limping this past month has now mutated. Saturday morning I woke up, feeling better and more stable, but then I tried to dance. Nerve pain shot from my back down my leg. Sciatica. That’s a new one for me. It hurts. I am guessing it is not a coincidence that this developed on the morning my kids signed a lease together to rent a house.

No more a coincidence than my leg giving out on the morning before I took my mother to meet with her surgeon to plan how to deal with her aggressive uterine cancer. The surgeon did a great job, and my mom did great. There’s no way, faced with this kind of thing, not to think about death, though. When our parents have gone – and DH’s parents have both passed – we know: we’re next in line. Our kids are becoming adults. We’re getting old. At some point, the getting old interferes with the fun stuff in life, like having the energy to stay out past midnight or the ability to recover well from a long, hard run.

It’s 5:30 am. I see the sky turning from night to early morning blue. Some of the runners are already powering up with coffee, planning to meet up with friends soon, racing the sun. I won’t be joining them, of course, and I wonder if I ever will again. I need a lot of hours awake and moving before I’m ready to roll. I can’t do what those young people do without consequences. I like to imagine I am so tough and so strong that I can train the way other women do. But I’m not. I’m not a surfer. I’m not a Himalayan backpacker. Given ten alternative life lines, I imagine in some I might have chosen UCSC over Williams College, or maybe I would have settled in New York or California instead of New Mexico. Maybe. Maybe. But I never would have become the adventurous surfer chick or the outdoorswoman. It’s not who I am. And truthfully? I like to imagine given 10 alternative life times, I would have chosen this man, this home, and this life raising these kids every time.

DH and I are excited to have so much room in our house. I love to sleep with my husband, of course, but he snores, or wakes up and can’t go back to sleep and wants to read. He goes to bed earlier or later than I do, and we don’t wake at the same time either. With my daughter gone, there’s a whole other room in which to sleep. At our age, sleep is hard-won and heavily prized. Just as exciting as getting an additional sleep room, DH’s art room will be transformed as our son will take his weights with him to his new house.  DH is a sculptor. He’s an artist; it’s who he is. Sometime, coming soon, he’ll retire from a job that is not who he is and spend his time making art. DH doesn’t seem to mind slowing down as much as I have minded. He will not cry when the kids leave. He will not feel what I feel, which is a grand psychic shift, the shudder as my life purpose – grow children! – is complete.

Raising kids is 20 years out of a lifetime. How did those 20 years become my definition and purpose? What’s next?

For a while, I think I was letting running define me. It’s not really who I am, though. I’m a mover. I love to run, and I love to walk and dance and swim and hike. I will never be excellent at any of those things. I’m not hardcore. I’m going to be a lot happier when I stop comparing myself to other women, the ones I believe are more hardcore than I. Statistics say I’m going to be a lot happier with an empty nest, too. There’s less stress, fewer responsibilities. More space.

I do not have a plan for what’s next. I do not have a vision. I don’t have a bucket list. When my daughter moves away again, I’ll go visit her wherever she is, and I’m looking forward to that. I like the weight and strength of our tether and knowing she gets to lead and I get to follow. DH and I will find other places to explore, just the two of us, maybe Yellowstone or Vancouver some day.

Most days, we’ll just be home. Because that’s who I am, a homebody. It’s not exciting or adventurous or badass or hardcore. The sooner I get okay with that, the happier I will be. I think, once the kids are gone, I can help DH organize his art space, maybe find him a good sturdy work table that will go right where our son’s weights used to be. Next, I’ll clean out the pantry. Then I’ll start on the closets.

I’ll just let stuff go.