What We Take and What We Leave Behind

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Packing for my first Christmas away from home was a challenge. A small suitcase was left open on my bed for a few days while I pondered what to take and what to leave behind; not clothes, but my talismans of holiday magic.  Every year a nostalgic ritual takes the place of pulling things from the attic, foraging into the holiday storage bins and if truth be told, sniffing deeply into the used tissue paper cradling the breakable ornaments from childhood to catch that musty scent of Christmas past.  Each item holds some wisp of magic for me whether it’s a reindeer made of a plastic spoon with pipe cleaner antlers, a baby’s first Christmas ornament and most especially my dad’s Ben + Jerry’s eggnog bowl that he bought in 1955.

This year the ritual was completed, but no children came home. Instead, they created a giant family trip to Lake Tahoe.  How do you transport magic? The suitcase was gradually filled with the Santa toilet seat cover, the wooden tray from Germany, a bayberry candle, my mom’s apron, and the girl’s stockings. My girls and their new relatives by marriage each did the same thing, bringing a memory, recipe, or ritual to share.

Watching my grown girls interact with each other and their new “marriage” families flooded me with feelings of the fragility of raising a child and what it took to bring every ounce of myself to the 31-year daunting journey. My new mother’s suitcase was filled with hope, insecurity, determination, faith and a boatload of equipment: car seats, strollers, diaper bags, library books and endless bins of toys.

But it all boiled down to Feed. Rock. Respond. Love. Repeat.

Now that they are grown and independent, my suitcase of hope and insecurity feels overweight like red-tagged excess baggage. The aching loss of no longer being relevant or needed is unbearable, and the in-between spot is so damn hard.

Am I carrying irrelevant advice, too many hugs, inquiring questions that irritate, and an overabundance of spiritual beliefs and sappy sayings?  Do I see my children roll their eyes as they seem to be “dealing” with the burden of my mothering?  I’m not sure what to do with myself anymore, so I walk on eggshells while feeling the arrows of their teasing criticism pierce. Clearly, they can dress, feed themselves and love one another.  They know how to bake sugar cookies, make lasagna and seek help.  My daughter starting therapy was on her Twitter feed.

I left the Tahoe house for a few hours to go snow skiing with the hope of feeling 20 again. It was an awkward comedic start like “Lucille Ball Hits the Slopes.” Gathering pieces of myself left behind pre-motherhood is like gathering talismans of holiday magic. Finding them causes great bursts of laughter or waterfalls of tears. A few hours in, I promoted myself from the bunny hill to a more challenging slope, fell and couldn’t get up like a stuck tortoise. Laying on my back in the snow looking at the blue sky I laughed myself silly until Brian from Gilroy glided up and gave me a hand. “Even angels fall,” he said, and as he pulled me to my feet, he added, “ You got this.”

And then, there it was!  The feeling of confidence, flying down the hill, whooping out loud, singing happy birthday to myself in the snowy treetops on the ski lift, and the return of my 20-year-old girl. Days away from 63 years old, I gathered her up just in time.

The decision to leave behind the old parenting baggage accumulated over three decades has been made. The suitcase of holiday magic will be re-packed, driven home and returned to the attic. Both my body and heart are bit sore, but my spirit feels lighter knowing I will find my way.

One of the life lessons I imparted to the girls was “Always be a blessing, not a burden.”  It’s my turn to remember this as a mother.

 

Maureen McElroy
Mo has secret parent diaries and stashing away thousands of lessons and experiences raising three daughters. Since they are college graduates, married with great guys, and are superb human beings she felt it was safe to call herself an expert, a successful mother or someone who may be worth listening to. Mo says, “If I can save one night’s sleep, one argument, one sneak out, or moment of insecurity, or increase the number of hugs in a family, my mission will be accomplished.”
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