Monday, October 04, 2010

Where the heck have I been?

You find in me in not such a very good place, right now.

A sequence of events - both good and bad - has taken place at such breakneck speed as to leave me little time to think or breathe. Life has been lived in a purely reactive mode, and only the noisiest wheel has been oiled at every moment.

I have hardly blogged. I have Facebooked only superficially and largely only socially. I have Twittered only sporadically. I have not worked at all. There has been neither the pressing need, nor the time. Instead, I have graduated. I have taken my mother on day trips hither and yon. I have prepared for a momentous event (more of that anon). I have taken a family holiday.

But now the dust has settled.

The problem is that is has left me space to reflect far too much on the most recent and most momentous of the events, namely my elder son's departure for his gap year in Australia.

Another of the events that took place was the loss of a major contract that was to have kept me busy for about 12 months, while supplying a source of income for the same period. The loss of that contract - under slightly fishy circumstances, to say the least - has left me with the double bogey of financial concerns and too much time to grieve.

Because it is grief.

Even though my son has only gone for a year, his departure has left such a great, gaping hole in my life that I found (find) myself bereft.

Even this provides the opportunity to learn. Geek that I am.

I have learnt about a parent's capacity for self sacrifice and for simultaneous multiple heartaches.

For much of their lives, we have encouraged our sons to take a year out after school to go and work abroad. To try out the parental value set for size and adjust it for a more personal fit. To discover what it means to have to earn and pay your way. To see a different culture going about the daily business of doing things that you have always done a certain way by default.

I always viewed it from the perspective of my sons and the benefits they would reap from such an experience.

However, as the departure date for the first of these experiences loomed nearer, it dawned on me what the experience was going to be like for me. I'd never thought about the impact on my life. I began to dread it. I changed my mind. I didn't want my boy going to the other side of the world, where I couldn't reach him in an emergency. Part of me realised that this was part of the point. Another part of me realised that I was going to be learning about letting go as much as my son was going to be learning about becoming independent. I could only think about how un-prepared he was.

But I learned through bitter experience many years ago, that "it is possible to do something important for someone precious, even while it rips your heart out". These were the very words I recently wrote to the 'someone precious' who was at the heart of that first bitter lesson. And I also learned that I have a parent's capacity to take on personal pain for the benefit of your kids. I was rather pleased at this discovery. Looking back over my life, there has been ample evidence of it before. It is only now that I have formally recognised it for what it is.

In the midst of all this, there is my younger son. He was inconsolable after his brother left, and I felt his grief in addition to my own. Every time I found him in tears, I would realise afresh the extent to which a parent can carry two griefs simultaneously.

I also realise that my younger son is being forced to witness in advance the impact of his own gap year departure on us. My husband is stoic and Scandinavian, and bears his pain much better than I do. So it is my grief that is the danger. I so desperately do not want my son to decide that he cannot bring himself to be responsible for such heartache... especially since his departure is likely to result in an empty nest, leaving his parents rattling around their rather large house.

I have watched my younger son try to step out of his more naturally self-contained mode to supply the hugs and cuddles that are his brother's habit to bestow upon me - not because it is in my elder son's nature to be tactile, but because, with the alarming insight that he has always had, he identified early on that I needed that physical contact.

I always knew that this was going to hurt like the dickens. I have learnt over the past week just how much a dickens hurts.

I have always known that parenting is difficult. I am discovering just how difficult it can be, and realising that it could be way worse.

I am grateful for Facebook and Skype and text messages. These things have turned the world into a much smaller place, and I am able to have real-time and almost-real-time contact with my son quite frequently. These technologies that I tried to look at so hard as professional learning and development tools (and they are, I haven't changed my stance on that), are also a way for keeping families intact across the miles.

Of course, I should have realised that, since I also swanned off to the other side of the world, leaving my own mother behind. But it tastes a different colour from the parental perspective.

What I now need to learn is how not to try to be awake during the waking hours of both my sons when they live 7 time zones apart.



Janet Clarey said...

You've left tears in my eyes and lump in my throat. How lucky you are to be so close.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Janet Thanks. Glad to have met a positive reception.

Not to be contentious or anything, I discovered that parent-child relationships have little to do with luck and more to do with effort on the part of the parent.

I have my Dad to thank for that, oddly enough. He served as a prime negative example. We didn't have much of a relationship, and he always blamed me for that. When we did speak, he would berate me that he felt excluded from my life.

I was 35 and a parent myself before I finally woke up and stopped playing victim to his bully.

He chose to be on the perimeter. He chose not to attend the plays I was in, the choir performances we gave, the sporting contests in which I competed. My Mom sent him copies of my school reports, but he chose not to contact me to discuss them.

The pattern is set by the parent before the child is old enough to make choices.

You have not chosen this route. You are engaged with your kids. You'll see. When they get past the grunting stage, people will be telling you how lucky you are to be so close to your kids.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Karyn. You've obviously done a great job. One son ploughing his own furrow on the other side to the world, the other son missing his brother badly. Independent of you and bonded as siblings. Great parenting!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Anonymous Thanks for that encouragement. Like all parents, we do the best we can.

V Yonkers said...

I feel your pain as I prepare for my son to go off to college next year. In the US, this can be across the country, many miles away. As a result, once they are gone, they are usually gone for at least 4 months.

I remember my mother crying when my oldest sister left...this from someone who never let her kids see her cry. I was shocked and couldn't understand. After all she still had 4 kids at home! But now I can understand many things I didn't understand as the "child". And I marvel that my parents did as much as they did with five of us 7 years apart in age. I'm sure next year I'll be writing a similar post as yours when my son goes off to college.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Virginia Oddly enough, even now that I have experienced the Mom side of the equation at first hand, I can't superimpose that onto my own Mom. When I left South Africa, she was a bit tearful, but we had been living 700 miles apart for several years already, and I had not really lived at home since I was 11, anyway. So it didn't make that much of a difference.

I tried to think back to how it must have been for her when I went to boarding school at the age of 11, but, at that age, I had no concept of being precious to her, so I can't infuse the mental image with the sort of longing that I feel now.

I am so glad that my own kids know how precious they are to me!