The last 15 days, have been the longest 15 days of our lives. A whole lotta change has taken place.
My eldest kid, 17-year-old Jake, has been away on an Outward Bound white water rafting and mountaineering course and I have had zero contact with him until pickup yesterday. For those of you not in the know, Outward Bound is a global organization that specializes in exposing your kid to the outdoors which also, naturally, helps them discover and overcome their own personal hurdles and blockages in life–ultimately giving an individual a lesson in themselves and an opportunity to seek improvement and acceptance. There are a multitude of courses offered–from 60 day dogsledding treks across Alaska, to 100 day boating navigation adventures from Maine to Bahamas, to diving and service based work in Costa Rica, etc. Since Outward Bound was so new to us, we chose to stay in Oregon–knowing that Jake would still get exactly what he needed to get, without traveling far from our own backyard.
The first few days were a nightmare. And of course, I’m only speaking for me. But you can bet I was transferring it to him: this emptiness and lack of knowing what’s happening is scary and horrible! This must be how he feels too! So I spent a couple of days assuming what was going on out there: that he was hating it, and hating me. But then I had to admit I surely wasn’t giving him enough credit. This was about him proving to himself that he could do it–and here I was making rude bets and sneaky arrangements with my subconscious that he couldn’t.
So I just let it all go.
If he hated me at the end, well then, it was the beginning of making up for a lifetime of holding him back. But if he didn’t, it was worth the risk, discomfort and challenge of becoming a better parent.
Prepping a teen for adulthood is harder than anything. Mostly because the act of getting them ready to fly from the nest is also getting you ready–for the absence, for the extra space, for not hearing from him, for not knowing what’s going on, for missing out, missing him, for the rest of my kids to follow him out the door. And so, you’re right in thinking that this adventure away from home was just as much about prepping me for the future of Jake, as it was him. Although I didn’t completely realize it at the time.
I had to work hard at dismissing my thoughts in order to make space for him to come home, not as a different kid–but an adult who didn’t need me anymore.
I had to be honest with myself and let go of needing him to need me–because he doesn’t anymore and he hasn’t for a long time. But before you start weeping and cracking open the wine in solidarity with my sad realization, let me remind us So-Called Moms, that this doesn’t need to be examined under a fatalistic lens. It’s critical to interrupt this overthinking and deeply consider what we really want for our kids and own when we are tragically holding them back. Do we want to raise them into adults who are clingy and afraid or bold and sturdy? I vote for the second option. I’m sure we all do, but which side do our actions really nurture? Because even if we think we are encouraging them to be bold and resilient, our actions often communicate otherwise. No wonder they get so frustrated with us.
At the end of each Outward Bound course, there is an opportunity for self reflection that the staff offers as an option to students who are ready: the 24 hour solo trip. I was surprised that Jake opted to participate over the alternative: Summit the mountain with the rest of the group, whom he had become close with. But instead he hiked 1/2 mile away from everyone and spent 24 hours alone. I bet going solo was Jake’s version of summiting the mountain. I haven’t asked, but I think he knew the summit would be easy for him and sitting alone for what felt like an eternity and counting on no-one but himself was the challenge that he was after. I’m just shocked he didn’t take the easy way out: summit that mountain, coast through the rest of the course and finish the trip with flying colors. But no, he actually wanted to sit alone with his thoughts, which took a level courage I didn’t know he had. Maybe he didn’t either. Now that is something to open our wine and toast to!