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They’re Not Me, I’m Not Them

watching them head into the unknown can be excruciating

It’s 4 am and I can’t sleep. It could be the altitude. I’ve read that altitude-induced insomnia is a thing.

Who am I kidding?

Altitude has nothing on the ball of anxiety desperately calling to me from the pit of my stomach as I get ready to send child number two, My Sun, off to college.

Sure, part of it has to do with the whole concept of juggling. When you toss that first ball up in the air, the others are safely secured in your hand. They may need to be shifted or moved, but you don’t have to worry as much about them because they are not currently flying through space without borders, or ties. That ball up in the air, though. That ball is loose. It could fall. It could veer off. You just have to hope that you gave it a good toss, good momentum, and direction. And even then, the wind could take it or something unexpected could encounter it in the air… You have to hope that when it comes back around, it’s ok and ready to take off again.

What happens if the second ball is totally different from the first? Aren’t they all different, though? But, what if the second ball doesn’t conform to the norm? What if that second ball is happier being a curve ball, has always been more confident as a curve ball? What happens if my own doubts and difficulty understanding get in the way and affect my toss?

Yeah, I’m going to call it. Altitude has very little to do with my current insomnia. It’s a reccurent insomnia, one I am familiar with, child-induced. Man, it was easier when the sleeplessness had to do more with things I could control: change the diaper, burp the kid, try to go back to sleep. Never thought I would be missing those days.

Then, came the first bout of this particular kind of sleeplessness, though on a much smaller scale. Still, it sits in my memory like a block of concrete … one of the first of its kind, the beginnings of an entire pillar of motherly anxiety: the first sleepaway camp. Squeaky Wheels and Spinning Plates.

In some ways it seems like a million years ago. At times, I feel like it could have been yesterday. Rereading what I wrote back then… Well, aside from resisting the urge to tear it all down and rewrite, favoring the authenticity of the moment over any selfish desires to self-edit. Aside from all that, it is a simple reminder that this is not the first time nor the last that this particular wave of emotions will attempt to drown me.

How to calm the feeling? I’m still working on that (obviously. It’s almost 5 o’clock now and I’m still here). With My Sun, on some level I understand that I am getting in my own way. I am trying to merge understanding with acceptance. And, the fear that I feel when I look around and see that there are so many that simply refuse to accept anything, anyone they do not understand is a red hot poker in the side of the mama bear in me.

They are two separate things, you know, understanding and acceptance. And, as much as we often view our children as extensions of ourselves, they are not. I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if I had been raised now, in the same social and technological environment as my own kids were. Honestly, I have no idea.

There are things I will never understand about their world, no matter how hard I try. Because, they will always be viewed through the lens of my own experiences. And as much as it pains me, I need to accept it. That doesn’t mean I will stop trying to understand. It simply means that I have decided I will not let my understanding, or lack thereof, get in the way of my relationships with my kids.

So, when I find myself having difficulty understanding their personal choices, I tell myself two things: (1) they are not me and I am not them; and (2) my love for them is unconditional. Ok… make it three things: (3) I will always be here for guidance and comfort whether or not I personally understand the particular struggle at hand.

And, even though I cannot shelter and fully protect them from the misconceptions and hate they will inevitably encounter on their very different journeys out in the world, I can stand beside each of them and fight for … no with them.

Now, I should probably try to get a little bit of sleep before I give ball #3, LM, a gentle toss off to his new middle school in a couple hours.

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