Updated: Dec 3, 2022
Letting go is an art... It has layers, intricacies and complexities, it needs time and patience, it requires various processes and patterns but by the end, it creates a beautiful, if at times, abstract ensemble of feelings and emotions that take you on a journey that can somehow leave you breathless and exhilarated yet calm and introspective. Letting go is a gamble. Letting go of our children can feel a little like Roulette! You hope and trust that what you are doing is absolutely right and necessary while at the same time allowing your heart to break and swell with pride at the same time intermingled with the swirling thought, "have we done enough?"
During the last week of September 2022, I left my eldest daughter in Oxford, England. After three years of hard work, tears, joy and every other emotion you can possibly think of, her goal of studying film was realized. Although ecstatic for her, in the back of our minds lurked the notion that we would have to leave her in a foreign country with people that we did not know, in a place that was far less familiar than her hometown, to forge a path for herself. In the recesses of our consciousness, we had to hope and pray that all we had taught her was enough.
After our arrival in England and a slight car hiccup, we took to busying ourselves with the admin of all thing’s university as we tried to ignore the prancing elephant that was staring us in the face. The fact remained that I would eventually leave, and she would eventually be on her own. Try as I might, I just could not wrap my brain around it. I knew in theory that this would be the reality but in practice it was taking every ounce of my strength to process it. I mean, I knew she would leave one day. I knew that she would spread her wings and soar higher than anyone would ever have anticipated but my mother's heart kept worrying if there would be enough oxygen for her up there... high up in that sky. I wrestled with things that I desperately wanted to say but knew instinctively to hold my tongue. I wrestled with my own fears about leaving her, her security and safety. I vacillated between holding her close and giving her some distance.
By the time I did the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Cornwall to see my sister, I was a tangled mess of emotions. My sister and brother-in-law, sensing my emotional state, took care of me. Treating me to dinner; organizing a spa day; my brother-in-law being available to take me on a drive around one of the most stunning golf courses; my sister giving me her time and her listening ear even when I had no words and just sat silently on the couch. The time I had with them, fed the deepest parts of my soul. I felt like I could deal with the next stage of the journey.
Three days before I was to leave, I checked into a Bed and Breakfast close to the University. Michaela and I took time just being together. Enjoying each other’s company whilst keenly aware of the fact that I would be leaving. We tried to suck the marrow out of the little time we had left, and I tried hard not to squish her cheeks every chance I got. She is my eldest... my first-born... Letting her go was ripping my heart out but I knew that I had to contain my own emotions because I needed her to know that she could do this. That she is going to be okay. That she is allowed to do this for her future and for herself. That she is capable and ready for this. As a mom, I could not have been prouder.
Giving her that last hug goodbye felt surreal. I tried to remember the feel of her in my arms, the smell of her... Her petite hands in mine, her gorgeous smile, the way her eyes light up when she sees me, her mannerisms, the way she must always touch me when she's speaking to me... Her and I share the love language of physical touch... no one else in our family has that particular love language. Although we can both go for ages without it, it eventually leaves us feeling a little like a leaf blown around in the breeze. Her siblings, although not 'physical touch' kind of people, are keenly aware of her need for physical touch and they find her to be a comfort, so it is not a struggle to give her what she needs. As is normal with teens and parents, they are not as expressive with me, but I do get hugs and quality time which is awesome. I have learnt to respect my children, their space and their love languages. But leaving the only other person who actually 'gets' my need for physical touch, left me slightly bereft. I knew that I would see her again. I knew that this was not a goodbye but rather a wave and a kiss 'til we meet again. Still... leaving is hard. The missingness does not take time to come, it is there, instantly, the moment you walk away. It took every ounce of strength I had left to drive that car to the airport. I don't think I have ever felt so physically and emotionally challenged. I was exhausted...
Sitting on the plane, I tried, without much success to contain the emotions running riot in my heart. Eventually, the floodgates opened, and the tears silently fell. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the woman in the seat next to me. She too was crying. She asked if I was okay, and I chokingly told her that I had left my daughter behind in Oxford to which she replied that she had left her son behind in Leeds. We did not need words in that moment as the two of us shared that silent bond, that knowing, that understanding of what it takes a parent to let a child go. As we sat sobbing through take-off, we heard another sniffle. Looking up, we found our air host crying with us. She reached into her side pocket and pulled out two packs of tissues which she handed to us. We giggled and then sobbed and then laughed and then cried some more. Eventually we let go of each other’s hand and both of us drifted off to sleep. We said our goodbyes in Dubai as I boarded my final flight home. I felt comforted with the knowledge that I was not alone. So many parents have done this before. So many have said goodbye and they are still standing. And so am I.
Are there hard days? Absolutely! I will not deny that! Are there days where I sit quietly and allow the tears to run freely down my face? One hundred percent! But I know that I am not alone. I know that my child is doing what she loves and that she wouldn't have it any other way! I take comfort in knowing that my sister and brother-in-law are there. We have friends who live close to Michaela, who have welcomed her into their homes, who have taken care of her, fed her, listened to her and loved her. Just recently, my cousin and his wife travelled to England and made time to go to Oxford and take her out to lunch. She cherished every second and her love tank felt full to overflowing! I am grateful. I am so immensely thankful for the people who have stepped into the gap and made my daughter feel welcome. Who have given of their time to help her settle in. Words are simply not enough.
I have acknowledged that this is part of the cycle of parenting. We do not keep our children forever. Our job is to nurture and love them. To get them ready to spread their wings and then to cheer them on when they do. Our job is to run beside them and encourage them, cheer them on no matter how hard or tough it gets. Our role is not yet finished. Even in letting go, there is still work to be done!
Sidenote: If you would like to know more about Michaela's journey, as a parent or as a school leaver preparing for the next step, go ahead and check out her vlog, just click on the link: michaeladj which will take you to her YouTube channel.