My Kids Are Growing Up. I'm Sad. Hold Me.
“If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re peeing on the present moment.” A friend dropped this knowledge on me in college, and it’s a phrase — and if I’m being honest, a visual as well — I haven’t been able to shake since. Let me press pause right here to tell you that this is not a story about embracing the present moment and living in the now. As much as I love all that magical juju, this story is about me projecting my thoughts and feelings into the future and realizing how sad I will become as life drizzles its impending changes upon me. I call it “Future Mourning,” and it’s a real mother of a downer.
I wasn’t always like this. Instead of mourning a future that is yet to happen, I used to begrudge many things as they happened in real time. For instance, there’s a set of hooks in my mud room dedicated to the sole purpose of neatly holding backpacks. Yet my boys haphazardly sling their backpacks onto a bench in the living room, leaving my walls scarred and bruised, the weight of binders and books tipping the bag just enough to one side that today’s water bottle leaks its remaining ounces on to the floor. Just the sight of it causes my indignant nerves to flare up. Don’t even get me started on the stickers on the mirror frame, balls left around the yard like sprinkles on a cupcake, the one lone sock thrown behind the TV console, a half-eaten yogurt with a spoon that’s become one with the last bite left uneaten. It’s enough to drive a mama mad! For many years I have huffed and puffed and insisted the backpacks be hung on hooks and stickers only go on paper and both socks should be dislodged from your feet in the same location. But not anymore. Something has changed.
I started to mourn a future where only the ghosts of these irritations remained. I would see myself, seven years from now, running my fingers over the dings and dents on the wall above my living room bench, remembering the sound of my kids coming home from school as I sat in an empty, quiet house. Future me would glance over at the one stubborn sliver of sticker that never came all the off and see it as a cherished memento from the toddler years. I’d imagine myself, not too far from today, drinking coffee on my back porch and cursing my yard for looking so pristine with no kickballs or Nerf guns or whiffle ball bats littering the grass. Because what seems like a nuisance in the present moment is the same thing that will flood me with a sense on longing before this decade ends. These things are signs of life. Proof that my children are here, with me, in this yard that looks like the set of Sanford and Sons. And every version of me — past, present, and future — is having a helluva time reckoning with that changing.
My kids are growing up and it makes me sad. Hold me. They are now closer to 18 than I ever thought imaginable and it’s as if the scales have fallen from my eyes. In its own twisted way, Future Mourning has shown me that I’m not going to get a do-over, so I might as well do the best I can with the time I have left. There are so many things I want to do differently in this season, but at the heart of it is this: I want to spend more time asking my boys, “show me who you are,” and less time trying to tell them who I think they should be. I want to keep my feet firmly planted in the present moment, not just so no pee slips out, but to save myself from Future Mourning and enjoy what’s happening while it’s happening. I want to pay attention and really know them so when they are gone they don’t feel so far.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and the only way to make myself feel better about any of this is to remember that the future is going to unfurl in ways I cannot know nor control. There will always be a current event for down-the-road me to mourn, a new grievance that will look like a blessing in hindsight. All I can do is be up for an unpredictable adventure — and I won’t know if it ends with an exclamation point or a question mark until I get to there. But until then, hold me.