Having studied the great minds of many disciplines, I should know something about holding on and letting go. For Freud, it was the seminal struggle of the anal stage, the infamous Terrible Twos. Freud said the inability to learn to let go can later manifest as stinginess, hoarding, holding grudges or of course, constipation.
The Buddha taught impermanence: all of existence is in a constant state of flux.
Patanjali’s yoga sutra, “Sthira sukkham” translates as balancing stability and ease. Be grounded, yet fluid and open.
Or Thich Nhat Hanh, “Present moment/Wonderful moment.”
My firstborn is applying to college. I find myself tumbling, hurtling, free falling, between past and future as we embark on a trip to visit colleges in Maine. All of my other identities—psychologist, yoga and mindfulness teacher, writer, Calm One—evaporate in favor of grasping OctoMom.
Blame the adorable baby boy hanging from his mom in a Snugli on the airport security line. Wistfully, Jake commented, “I wish I had corduroy overalls like his.” To which I replied, tearing up, “I wish you were a baby again like him.” What a moronic thing to do to your almost 18-year-old, six-foot, football player son.
But my wist-fest quickly morphed to fury when we missed our plane because Jake went to McDonald’s. A beautiful fall Saturday.
Six hours of nothing until the next flight.
How much easier it was to explode into rage than to sit with sadness.
Especially when Jake is utterly grooving on the moment, enjoying reading and snoozing in the timeless space of the airport.
Skip the part where I said things to him I regret.
It took longer than I will admit to calm down and let go. Jake shared a draft of a college essay. His topic? Being in the moment. Ironic? Painfully. Mine is the rare teenager who knows how to live in the present.
On the plane, the crossword puzzle teased me with the clue, “Every parent’s challenge” Teens.
Seven hours later we reached Portland and got our rental car. Another 90 minutes from Portland to Waterville. Everything about the space was liminal. Dusk, the space between day and night. Falling leaves, the space between seasons. Light rain and fog. The strange space of an unfamiliar car.
I asked Jake to turn on the radio, half dreading what he would choose. He found an oldies station, a nod to our shared love of ‘60s and ‘70s rock.
The first song catapulted me back to junior high.
“Give a little bit.
Give a little bit of your love to me.
I’ll give a little bit
Give a little bit of my life for you.
Now’s the time that we need to share….”
Jake, I would give my life for you. Sob!
Next up, Michael Jackson, “Ooh baby give me one more chance.” I was in the past, making a stop in my high school years (did my parents even notice when I left for college?). I skipped ahead a few decades to the 90s, Jake’s early childhood, wanting to be more “there,” to savor each moment. Give me one more chance. Maybe I want one more chance to be young again. How and when did I get so old that it’s him and not me going to college?
Next the Eagles, and Hotel California catapulted me to my college years. Jake and I waxed philosophical about the line, You can check out any time you want but you can never leave. Although more to the point is Some dance to remember, some dance to forget. Past. Future. Anything to escape the present moment.
Jake read me some paragraphs from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance while I drove. This is the moment to live for, I plead with myself—Enjoy this time with him, his sharing what is meaningful. Count your blessings, woman! How many teenage boys share with their mothers?
Then Jake wanted to plug in his iPod. I immediately assumed he was going to tune me out. No, he let it play through the car radio. He randomly pressed buttons and miraculously got it to work (in sharp contrast to what would happen if I randomly pressed buttons). He shared songs with me that he loves. Macklemore’s “Same Love.” Classical music. More moments to savor. Now, mama, Now. Present moment, wonderful moment.
Suddenly jonesing for Joni Mitchell, I asked him to connect my iPod. Brainstorm: I have him captive and can make him listen to my uber-emotional mother-son playlist. The one I made, oh, several years ago. As my friend Susan says, “You’ve been having separation anxiety since kindergarten.” (Takes one to know one, Suze.) Diane Reeves, Never too far from home. Stevie Wonder, Please Don’t Go. Joy Inside My Tears. Dar Williams, The One Who Knows. Mothers everywhere: email me for the full roster, it’s a doozy.
Before the mountains call to you
Before you leave this home
I will teach your heart to trust
As I will teach my own
But sometimes I will ask the moon
Where it shined upon you last
And shake my head and laugh and say
It all went by too fast
You’ll fly away
but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job’s done, you’ll be the one who knows.
Now we are so not in the present moment that it’s role reversal. I dropped him off at Colby College to spend the night with a friend from high school. I talked about getting a drink—yes, to escape the present moment—and Jake didn’t want me driving back to the hotel by myself. I joked that maybe a drink will help my horrendous sense of direction, coupled by that middle-aged difficulty driving in the dark. “You sound like every teenager, mom.”
Joni: I could drink a case of you
Stevie: Please don’t go, no no no
My heart swells. With loss. With pride. He cares.
Present moment, wonderful moment.
…tastes so bitter, tastes so sweet.
Lauren Rubenstein is a psychologist, yoga and mindfulness teacher, wife, and mother to two wonderful sons, one of whom is not going to college – Yet!
Editor: Sarah Winner