One day last week Facebook memories sneaker-punched me with this post from 2016:

I was in the middle of a very lovely morning. I was baking a pie, waiting for my tea water to boil, enjoying some alone time in the house on a sunny, late-summer day. What I’m saying is: I was in a good place. And yet, as I looked at my little girl and remembered saying good-bye to the 18-year-old version of her, my eyes were filling with damn tears, remembering how it felt to send her off to the other side of the country for college, ending an era of our life together.

It was awful.

Facebook has been letting me know that many other parents are doing the same thing again right now. I know that everyone’s experience of this common event is their own. I know that part of the difficulty for me was all wrapped up in my life circumstances at the time, the distance (geographically and culturally) she was going, and the fact that I did about a hundred or so different things wrong as we made that transition. (OK, maybe only one or two things, but they were important ones.) Still, I cannot see how, even in the best of circumstances, this event can be anything other than some kind of wrenching.

It’s a big deal. No matter what your parenting experience or relationship with your child, if they are leaving you to go live somewhere else, it’s the end of something profound.

Yeah, it’s the way things are supposed to be (if you’re lucky). Yeah, there are all kinds of other good things awaiting both of you. Yeah, it won’t always feel so hard. Yeah, you won’t cry in the grocery store forever. Yeah, yeah, yeah, all true.

That doesn’t erase or mitigate what’s hard. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

I sent a screenshot of the memory to my daughter and told her I was cursing 2016 Rita for ruining Today Rita’s morning, and she replied, “Today Rita can tell her not to worry, she moves back home for years lol.”

I laughed out loud. She’s been back home for more than a year now, waiting for another country to tell her she can live within its borders with her husband. So, I get to see her all the time. It’s wonderful and I’m so grateful for this bonus time, but living with 2023 Grace didn’t keep me from missing 2016 Grace. My daughter now isn’t the same Grace that left in 2016, any more than 2016 Grace was the toddler in that photo from 2001. I’m not the same Rita, either. 2023 Grace and Rita are both, in many ways, in a better place than 2016 Grace and Rita, so the feelings were not at all about wanting to go back in time. I like where we are now. They were about remembering how hard that time was, and how much I loved who we were to each other then (and how much I have loved all the versions of us we’ve been together), and how no matter what good things I have now, I don’t have some of the ones I once did and never will again. That is why I sat in my kitchen and let those tears come (as if I could stop them).

I’m not going to prescribe what any other parent should do; what’s right for one is not right for another and the things I would do differently if I could have a do-over on that transition might be the the very things that would make someone else’s experience better.

I’m just here to validate that this kind of loss–like all kinds of deep change–is hard, probably no matter how you do it, and no matter how many good, healthy, positive things are wrapped around it. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you should be feeling something different from whatever it is you’re feeling and doing whatever it is that helps you get to some other side. There’s no wrong way to grieve, other than to try to keep yourself from doing it–which is why I let myself go ahead and cry in the kitchen for a minute or two, even though the pain is old, even though my life is now pretty dang sweet. I hope all the parents who are fresh to this particular circle of parental hell can do the same.

(The pie turned out kinda ugly, like the way I cried when she left home. Still tasted good, though.)

10 thoughts on “Both/and

  1. Kari says:

    What matters is not how the pie looks on the outside, but how it tastes. (Although, I think it’s lovely.)

    I remember seeing your photo on Facebook at the time. I remember you going through all of this as well. Anna went to college for the first time in 2018, and she is now back and living /working in the suburbs. Does 2016/2018 feel like it was decades ago to you?

    • Rita says:

      Yes, decades. For so many reasons. 2016 was a year in which so many things shattered. I am glad to be past it and in a place that feels more whole/known (even as there is so much to be alarmed about).

  2. Shannon Radoll says:

    And for those of us (like your parents) whose babies aren’t able to leave the nest, there is another sorrow, another sense of mourning. Our dreams for them must bend and change. We try to celebrate what they have accomplished and not compare them to their sibling. I shed a lot of tears when my second son went off to college knowing it was something his older brother would never experience. I know you went through this with your brother.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, of course. I don’t understand this in the way that you or my parents do, but more than others. (Perhaps that is partly why these feelings I have are so mixed?) I will never forget the gut punch of my dad telling me, after my brother “graduated” from high school–which means that he aged out of eligibility for public education services–that he told him he wanted to go to college “like Rita.” Honestly, it still brings me to tears.

  3. Ally Bean says:

    Your pie looks delicious. It’s the taste that counts, not the look of it.

    I like the photo of your young daughter on the plane, learning a thing or two. I’m not on FB but from what people say it seems like its insistence that you look back in time isn’t always so great. Too many feelings out of nowhere, when those photos appear.

    • Rita says:

      “Too many feelings out of nowhere” is exactly what it is. Sometimes they are delightful, but other times…not so much. The pie was OK. I’ve since made a second one–whiskey peach–and it was leaps ahead of the first one. I am finding something so satisfying about pie-making, but neither of my children like pie and Cane and I are having a hard time getting them eaten. The challenges of a double-introvert marriage/life.

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