Test flights: In which my children begin leaving home

May 4, 2014 in Education

Miller Kids

The house is quiet.

I’ve been trying to write for days but have been spinning too many plates to allow the dust of my thoughts settle into place in the corners of my mind. To be fair, I’ve been writing non stop, just not the things that matter to me.

The only sound is the white water of Blackwater Creek, swollen against her banks by the spring rush, pouring over the ruins of the old mill building next to the bridge. The Man is tucked in next to me, one arm flung across his forehead, sleeping as fast as he can. Mondays he rises crazy early for his office day south of Boston. The children are on the rack too; well, most of them. Gabe is actually sleeping on the futon; we gave away his mattress yesterday. It is dark. The deep, velvety dark that settles into mountain valleys, held there by the fingers of waking birch trees and the velcro grip of hemlocks just daring to open one eye after a long winter’s nap.

This is our last Sunday night in New Hampshire, perhaps for a very long time. This evening is the calm before the rushing storm that will fling our family far and wide over the next couple of months. Tomorrow, the teen boys pack and Tuesday they fly to Indiana to jobs in separate places. Gabriel, to intern at Good Life Farms, Elisha to work at his grandparents’ pizza restaurant for a month. Yesterday we booked them onward flights that will take them to Canada for another month of sailing and river adventures with Gramps.

This time next week, if all goes to plan, I’ll be tucked into my Daddy’s log cabin on the island we call home, staging for the big leap to Europe. Tony and Ez are going to spend a month baching it in an off the grid cabin that my maternal grandfather built. No road, no electricity, except when the generator is running, lots of fishing and hiking and solitude. Hannah has her plans for 6 weeks of backpacking with her friend all laid out. Excitement is running high.

It’s been an interesting thing, to plan five trips between six people, spanning two continents and nine countries for the coming two months. On the one hand, it’s new territory for us, to have all of our teenagers off pursuing their own interests and having their own adventures. On the other hand, it’s exactly what we’ve raised them to do.

I’ve been surprised to find that many folks think we’re a bit nuts for encouraging them to take off in their own directions this summer. Maybe nuts isn’t the right word… but there’s definitely been a sense of, “Wow, I can’t believe you’d let them do those things. I’m so glad my kids are still well within my orbit.” I guess I can understand that. Truth be told, I will miss my kids in the next couple of months. It will be weird to set the table tomorrow evening and hold hands around it for the last time for over eight weeks. I’m the mom who couldn’t even put her kids on the big yellow bus. We have spent virtually every day of their childhood with them.

But they’re not children any more, are they?

One of the great disservices we do our children, in western culture, is to sell them short during their teen years. I’ve long maintained that much of the angst and rebellion that plagues young adulthood stems from the ways they are legislated against and held back from racing toward their potential and their dreams. We vowed, early, that we wouldn’t do that to our children, that we’d encourage them to pursue their dreams and be their loudest cheerleaders.

And so, we’re letting them go.

For two whole months. Actually, it will be just the tip of the iceberg, as the older teens will take off in different directions again this fall and are plotting to live separately from the family in the village we hope to spend the winter in, in Guatemala.

On the one hand, it feels like the end of an era. It feels like the cutting of the gossamer strings that have held my babies safely within close orbit since I taught them to balance on their two feet. It feels like a lightening of my load in an unbalancing way. It feels like that breathless moment when racers enter the final turn of a grueling course and the crowd is on their feet hearts in their throats, unsure of whether to cheer or weep. It feels like buying a lottery ticket for the two billion dollar prize, the one you want so desperately to win and have hoped against hope for for a lifetime.

On the other hand, it feels like the beginning of something so new and so wonderful that I can’t even imagine it yet. It feels pregnant with potential. It feels like betting all of my chips on one roll of the dice with no idea how it’s going to fall. It feels like opening my sweaty hand around the fingers of a chubby toddler and cheering those first, faltering steps. It feels so scary that I want to cover my eyes and not look, and yet it’s so exciting that I can’t tear my eyes away.

Of course I have complete confidence in these kids’ ability to fly straight and true or I wouldn’t be so willing to let them leap so early. They’ve been practicing independence for years. They’ve earned the right to my confidence. They’ve spent their whole lives living in the real world and they’ve got the skills to find their way, even if they make some missteps. I hope they do, that’s the best way to learn. Gabe and Hannah are more than ready. And Elisha, well, his first little leap is the illusion of independence, isn’t it? More of a bungy jump that will ricochet him right back into place. But that’s how the other two started, with test flights supported by ground crew, the very moment they showed any capacity for self direction.

I’m enjoying this night.

I’m sitting alone in the darkness, listening to the river, listening to deep breaths and quiet dreaming.

Tomorrow marks a corner turned in my motherhood.

Beginning tomorrow my children will start leaving the nest in earnest. I’ll push them out with a cheery goodbye and if I need to have a cry about it I’ll make sure they never see a tear. I’ll keep pushing them out for the next six years, one by one, as they are ready, and they’ll leave me in much the same pattern that they arrived not so long ago.

I want to be the mother known for cheering the loudest, supporting big dreams and hair brained ideas, and believing that my kids will not only fly, they’ll soar. It isn’t about me, after all, it’s about the glorious blossoming of them.

In between test flights I’ll savour the dinners and the weeks and months we have left between launches. I’ll treasure the short time we have left as a family of six under one roof. I’ll store away the sweetness of teenage laughter, music in the evenings, stories read aloud, games around the table, boys baking and a girl drawing, and morning flops on my bed.