My son calls me from a rural area on the small island of Rhodes, in the middle of the Mediterranean. It’s his first time away from home away on his own.
I can feel the tension in his text on Whattapp — a simple Hi, can you talk? but it holds so much. A mother knows.
His voice is shaky and he sounds tired or sick. My internal alarm is activated.
I am feeling anxious, he tells me.
I feel for him — a Millennial on his own for the first time, across the world, and not only is he worried about Corona, but the wifi is down — a Millennial nightmare. He’s in a cabin on his own behind the main house and the next house is not even visible.
He’s all alone and I feel his panic.
Months back he announced he was going on Birthright, a free 2 week trip for Jewish coming-of-agers to visit Israel. He would be taking an unknown amount of extended time to travel throughout Europe and Asia.
Letting go of your child is a rite of passage for a mother. And I wanted to let him go Well.
I feel confident I gave him tools and wisdom to navigate this world to the best of my ability. I think the moment my kids were born I started teaching them to leave the nest. They are not mine, afterall — they came through me to have their own human experience.
To be honest, it’s heartbreaking sometimes. Part of me wants to hold on forever and never let them go — but the best gift I can ever give my children, or any human, is to let them go.
In essence, we all want to be free and experience the world. And we also want to know there is a nest to come back to when needed.
I am grateful for my nest. So grateful that my mom is still alive and well, and I get to enjoy the privilege of her roasted chickens and steak dinners. That she packs me up leftovers to take home every time. It makes me feel like I have a soft place to land.
3 Lessons I Taught My Kids:
- Follow your dreams and desires. Listen to the voice inside your heart. Trust it. Take a risk and do what feels right to you. Even if it feels crazy or not the norm, trust it and do it.
- Self-advocate. Ask for what you need, ask for help, tell people the truth of how you are feeling, and speak up for yourself in a way that is curious and open minded.
- BE With Yourself. You’re going to have a lot of feelings in this lifetime. You may be alone, scared, in danger or heartbroken. Feel your feelings and don’t listen to the voices in your head. Meditate, seek teachers and tools/practices to help you to work with your mind so that you can experience joy and know how to be with yourself when there may not be anything else.
Number 3 works me so hard. Especially when he calls me from across the world alone in a cabin while the Corona Virus is sweeping through the world as a pandemic. It registers as panic and fear in my body.
But fear and panic is not what I bring to him, because I follow those three lessons myself too.
It always comes back to, Learn to Be With Myself. I feel the panic rise in my body and my instinct to protect him and keep him safe kicks in. My first response is to fix it so he doesn’t feel fear or anxiety.
But I cannot.
What I do is be compassionate and listen to him. I point him to his tools — his meditations, his ability to trust that he is safe and well, and know he has everything he needs.
The moment he calls me scared is what all the lessons were for. This is the path to growing up and it’s my responsibility to facilitate that.
One of the best lessons I have learned in my own 51 years is how to be with myself. Even when, especially when, I cannot control my external circumstances, I can breathe intentionally, and choose thoughts that bring me calm and joy. I always have control of that. And I want to pass that wisdom on.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. — Viktor Frankl
I have always encouraged my kids to go out and live their life. It’s my responsibility to handle my own fears that would deprive him from growing and learning the very things I have been teaching him all along.
Some of the most impactful lessons I have learned in life were from heartbreak, fear or loss. Why would I deny him that growth experience now?
I don’t fear for his safety with Corona. I trust he is safe. The hard part for me is holding the sensation of his fear and worry.
He was supposed to go to Germany, Thailand and then Japan for the Olympics. I suggested he stay in Greece for now. He was upset and scared— Japan is the one place he’s been very much looking forward to.
As we talk on the phone, he calms down somewhat. I can feel his breath get steadier. The next day he calls again and he wants to talk about his travel plans and was clear and direct about what he needs. He went next door to sit on a gorgeous hill overlooking the Mediterranean and download some Netflix movies. That helped soothe his nervous system, and mine.
And here I am in New York City, preparing and social distancing. Taking care of myself is another generous act a mother can do.
Holding the pole of love, grounding and empowerment at this time is the best action I can take. It challenges me so much and asks me to look at all my own fears and irrational thoughts.
The best thing I can do as a mother is handle those fears and irrational thoughts, and then be present for my kids, no matter what age, with the humble, vulnerable truth.
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