Some friends come by for a visit with their 18-month-old. After a few minutes of peek-a-boo and smiles behind daddy, she’s running around the house. Laughing. Falling down. Crying. “Doggie!” She screams and my dog jumps. She runs and cries some more. “TV!” She wants to watch Elmo. I buy an episode. “Melmo!” She giggles, throws her arms up, and sways along. She’s adorable, a tornado, the Energizer Bunny with dimples and a diaper. The whole house is exhausted. “Does this stage last long?” Her mother asks earnestly.

My son is moving out. He’s turned 20 and over the last year I’ve observed how the safety of our home has become a prison for him. He has new ideas, morals and philosophies. I’ve been careful to allow space for his opinions but we disagree sometimes, which is new for us. He’s told me I’m patriarchal, capitalist, racist. I try to listen and learn, and can sometimes see his point, but mostly I hear, “Dad, I’m leaving,” which is something he hasn’t known how to say another way. He’s found a job in Kentucky, assisting the author and feminist philosopher bell hooks. He adores her, he’s thrilled. He’s leaving in a few days.

I’m happy for him, and I’m sad.

I was meditating recently, sitting in a chair by a window, listening to the flow and fall of a nearby stream. Time disappeared, replaced by the hollow sound of water crashing upon itself. I sat like this for a bit until the thoughts returned. I had a call to make. I reached for my phone on the table beside me and caught a glimpse of my children on the cover of a photo book my wife made one year for Father’s Day. The kids were tender like the fawn of spring. “I miss them,” I thought with a tear and a sudden flash of warmth.

I notice when I say that: I miss my babies, it feels true. I miss holding hands. I miss tickles, silly songs to learn math, the way they gazed at me at night as I tucked them in and told them all the things they could be. When I say I miss them, it’s real. An authentic expression of a slightly broken heart. I also notice when I say how proud of them I am, how my heart is full of joy for the paths they’re uncovering, that feels true too.

“I’m happy and I’ll miss you,” I tell my son. Holding those two truths together is sweet and seems to draw us closer to one another, and to life.

I’ve been through this before, when my eldest daughter moved out and started film school. That was different though. We were following a time-honored path from home to university, and we were battling. I was scared, unsure how to be a dad to a teenage girl. I held on too tightly and the fear closed my heart. I forgot that the young woman in the backseat of the car on the way to high school still needed my love even as she reminded me I was no longer her knight in shining armor. My life was chaotic; I was working hard, marrying, divorcing, “too busy for this shit.” When she moved out we were both relieved. On a recent father-daughter road trip we talked about this. We cried a bit. I’d done my best all those years ago, but defending myself didn’t seem important. My job is to show up with open ears and heart. And she opened her heart too. “I’m sorry and I love you,” I said.

When I moved out, I was driven and righteous, and cruel to my mom. Her life seemed small and I thought there was nothing left for me but to escape. We had a fight late one night and I left for good. I didn’t fully come back until she was dying. By then there were so many other things to say and do that “I’m sorry I was cruel to you” seemed minuscule. I talk to her still. “I’m sorry mom,” I whisper under my breath and wipe my eyes.

Just as I’m thinking how happy I am I don’t have to do this again my 16-year-old pops into the room. She’s flying to LA to see a Harry Styles concert … with my old friends from Live Nation. She’ll dance. They’ll take her backstage. Her heart will swell. She’ll swoon a bit. “The man of my dreams,” she writes in the text below a picture hugging the artist. She grows up just a little on that trip. Moving closer to the day we’ll smile and cry as she moves out too.

Fall is drawing near in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The white-spotted deer who just this spring bounded irresistibly through the oaks, don’t look like Bambi any more, stumbling with their new, awkward antlers. Wild turkeys, prehistoric and gangly, squawk and scratch craters unearthing my daffodils. They bear little resemblance to the chicks that waddled and pecked behind their mothers. Young hawks, shriek on their patrol, performing ineffectual dive bombs on rodents who seem to always be one step ahead. And the amaryllis have sprung to life too, pushing through the soil with an explosion of pink and red.

My son and I drive quietly to the airport in the early morning darkness. The first rays of sunlight strike through the shadows of the redwoods lining the two-lane road to town. Occasionally one of us pats the other on the back or reaches for a Kleenex when the tears get to be too much. It’s notable that life doesn’t require a spectacle – a speech, or grand gesture, or some other dramatic effort – to emphasize a meaningful moment. We sit in silence, without adding or subtracting; sharing the raw feel of moving on … life in all its seasons is enough.

 

A few questions to explore around growth and goodbyes and being a parent:

What is being known? In moments of change we might notice the difference between the thoughts in our head and the feelings in our body. Where our thoughts tend to dramatize by adding to the experience, our bodies feel what’s actually going on. We can ground ourselves in the authentic sensations of our bodies through deep breaths, placing our attention in our feet, and mindful physical movement. Aware of our bodies we might ask, “What is being known?” and notice what we find. This is a doorway beyond the world of concepts, into a more authentic experience of our lives.

What is my role? As our children grow we become aware of how little control we have over their lives. This may be why we cling to images of them in infancy, a time in which it appears we have more control. As they mature our influence lessens. We find ourselves one voice among many – friends, teachers, tweets from around the world, YouTube personalities. We may worry and find ourselves struggling to find our place amidst it all. Wondering, “What’s my role?” or “How do I fit in?” Just knowing we can explore these questions is the beginning of mindfulness. We become aware of areas we’re holding too tightly. We notice the fears we cling to and project onto our children’s lives. It’s safe to let go, to breathe, to allow life to unfold, since that’s what it’s doing anyway.

Who am I? We’re confronted with the temporary nature of our lives. Our parents age and pass on. Our children grow and move out. Our lives change dramatically from one moment to the next. We’re no longer children, nor quite parents in the way we once were, and we face impermanence head on. The Buddha called this lack of a solid reality emptiness– an acknowledgement that our lives are fluid and ever-changing, that there’s nothing to hang on to. This tends to challenge our sense of self. For me it comes as the question, “Who am I?” This exploration of our identity (or lack thereof) is a classic spiritual pathway. It calls us to look beyond external comings and goings. The question draws us inward to the tender space in our heart, which is ultimately an opening into the vastness ahead.

Where am I going? We have an interesting relationship with time. We tend to view it as something we move through on our way from here to there. Until, of course, we get there and find ourselves wishing we could go back in time and live it all again. As our children grow we mark milestones and measure against the norms – first steps, kindergarten, middle school, spelling tests, driver’s licenses, did they get into a good school? Then they’re gone, and the moments are gone too, and we might wonder, “Where am I going?” now. The journey is to inhabit this life, to feel your feet on the ground, to breathe the early-morning air, to take in the new orange blossoms on the tree in the park where you email clients as you powerwalk … and to smell the blossoms too. Where we’re going is here.

What’s it like to be me? Waking up when the kids have grown we might notice the quiet. After years of running around, being on call, caring for others, the stillness can be welcome. It can also be lonely, eerie, and bring up the interesting (and uncomfortable) question,“What’s it like to be me?” This is a gateway to our uncharted inner-life, a calling to explore our own hearts, to show up for ourselves as we have for our children. This exploration can be frightening because it’s about intimacy, the thing we seek, the vulnerability we fear.

 

Big hugs of love,

Jason

 

 

  1. Jeremy Jones, D. C. says:

    cherish every moment like its the last! They return different than when they leave. part of growing up. Both parent and child.
    Wishing you the Best Always,
    Jeremy

  2. wendy st. john-devereaux says:

    good morning, Jason—-what a beautiful, heartfelt post this is—there were so many things I could relate to here

    I remember the good-byes when my daughter grew up—and the hellos when she returned years later (and we bought a house together, raised and homeschooled her son & now work together)

    more recently, there has been the pain of her son moving out, his hatred of us both, our disappointment over how he has turned out, despite our best efforts
    (he is irresponsible, lazy, sexist, rude, etc)

    and life goes on, in spite of it all, and we find the sweet and sour flavors of life

    meanwhile, the wild turkeys walk down the street, the bees play in the last blossoms on our trees, and the baby bunny in our backyard is suddenly grown up, and autumn is nearly here along the lake

    wishing you a happy autumn

    and new dreams to dream

    wendy st. john-devereaux

    • Hi Wendy. Ah, yes the wild turkeys. They were so cute just a few months ago. Now they’re reeking havoc in our garden: eating the new corn, destroying the berms, digging up the perennial vegetables. If only they would behave according to my wishes …

      Thank you for reading and sharing so openly.

      Big hugs to you and your family. – Jason

  3. Thank you So much!!!! 💗 Both of my children left this year. My son this spring hes 23 years old and had been waiting for the right time to move on and out. My daughter moved out a week after graduating grade 12…but shes been wanting to move out for a few years and it was not a surprise to my husband and I….I’m going through a kind of a grieving process of sorts right now…a remembering of them as young little children and at times it really hurts and I feel a wish I could have been more present as they were growing up…not so busy being busy…and seeing them now moving on on a new phase in life I hope I have taught them all they need to live out life to the fullest…and I hope I can be a warm comforting place for them to return to when they are in need of support and love…letting go is so hard…its a process 💗

  4. the first of my two children leaves for college on thursday. watching her grow has been the greatest gift of my life. somehow, despite knowing i did the best i could, i tear up wondering if it was enough. enough time? was she allowed to create enough space to grow her budding spirit? selfishly – is it ok to feel ill prepared? all i can see reflected in her beautiful green eyes is her first day of kindergarten – bouncy, beautiful pigtails and droopy shoulders that carried the excitement of a huge backpack – far before we left the bus. i made so many mistakes and have so many wishes for do-overs. now, just trying to remain present – with the hope that she will have learned to love herself and find a home within herself wherever she goes. so glad this post found me today. your writings are raw and hit a visceral but serene place within me. thank you.

  5. Hi Jason, after a long day with my 3 year old and 1 year old – reading this with my daughter as she clutches my arm watching Doc McStuffins, filled my heart with gratitude and eyes with tears. So often the day’s finish line is bedtime for these kids but the truth is joy is always waiting for me as soon as I immerse myself in each moment. Wishing you the best on your new quieter chapter. Thank you for opening your heart, I really enjoyed your book and enjoy your posts. Much love, Andrew

  6. Jason,

    Thanks for writing what most parents feel at the point of saying goodbye and hoping for the best. As memories down my cheeks, I thank you for helping me realizing again how lucky I have been.

    Much love

  7. Beautiful post, Jason. Currently in Boulder dropping off my youngest son for his freshman year of college. Then heading home to an empty nest. Your children are lucky to have your writing (as are the rest of us).

    Best,

    Matt

  8. You wrote what so many of us have experienced and it is beautiful. What I will remember from this forever as I continue on my path is this… “we must show up for ourselves now as we did all those years for our children. “ This touched me at my core. Thank you Jason

  9. Jason, thanks for your writing. so poetic, expressing this push/pull of parenting & how to find our balance between respectful space and profound closeness when kids/we/it’s always changing…thank you for sharing your inner voyage through the generations so we get to join you in resonance with our own!

  10. Patricia Malloy says:

    Wow I really enjoyed reading this! I thought it was just me having such a difficult time with the “empty nest” and letting go. Both my children left for college on the same day. We went from a house with children, their friends, sleepovers , and band practice to complete silence. It was quite a shock. I cried the first two years . They never returned home after college. They are both married now and have children of their own and are awesome parents! I still miss the parenting stage of my life and I think I always will. I love being a grandma and hugging my children’s children and am so blessed, but life has gone by so quickly. Like it says in John Lennon’s song “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. Sometimes I too feel like I was too busy doing other things and should have spent more quality time just with my own children. We do all have an awesome relationship and I value whatever time I now get to spend with my adult children, their spouses, and their children. I Have such gratitude to have been able to get to this stage of life and now be able to watch my children’s children grow. Thank for sharing that article. It was so well written.

  11. Benedict Cordero says:

    Thank you Jason it’s Cordero! I really love your writings and appreciate you sharing your personal thoughts. You haven’t lost that gentle soul you possessed as my childhood friend. I feel really connected to your thoughts and views you have today as an experienced man in today’s world. Thank you!
    Ben Cordero

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