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Letting Go Takes Love

Letting Go Takes Love

The author with her son
The author with her son

I lean over to kiss my son, and he pulls away. My eyes well and my heart constricts. He’s a day shy of his thirteenth birthday. He’s been avoiding physical affection for a year now, but it doesn’t get easier for this momma, who just wants to hug and kiss her little boy. Little boy. Wouldn’t he like to hear me say this, my boy-man . . .

It’s hard for me to believe he’s turning thirteen. Wasn’t it yesterday that I was tripping over Legos and Matchbox cars? And now, four of my sons wear black hats. My husband and sons make half a prayer minyan. I get a little emotional about these milestones. Just a little? I become a weepy mess.

My oldest son turned eighteen this past spring. I spent his entire birthday crying. My friend was hosting a bar mitzvah party that night, and it took an hour of lying in bed with cucumbers on my eyes for the swelling to come down enough for me to apply some eye makeup. What’s so hard about eighteen? Some people celebrate their children’s eighteenth birthday.

I can’t believe they’re all grown up. It’s what we pray for, that our children grow up happy and healthy. We wait for these milestones, and somehow they come—and I feel like they hit me, really hard, out of left field. Whack. It feels so final, this growing up. I want a retake. I didn’t do it all the way I wanted to. I wanted to do better. They deserved better. I haven’t always exercised all the patience I possess. I haven’t always listened completely. But wait. Look at these kids. They’re great. They turned out fine. More than fine. They are finding their way in their journey of life. Discovering their true selves. Without me.

I’ve been entrusted with these precious souls, and they are wholly dependent on me for the first part of their lives. And as they grow up and move away from me—slowly, so slowly—I don’t realize it’s happening. But then suddenly—a milestone, and I reflect on their lives and realize that they don’t belong to me. That they never did. A part of me lives in them, but they belong to themselves. They have no idea what a strong hold they have on my heart.

So a makeup artist will come, and I’ll ask her to waterproof my face. My friends and relatives will join us to celebrate. Sure, I’ll be happy and proud, but that won’t stop me from crying, my heart from breaking, or from feeling like an essential part of me is slowly slipping away, out of my grasp.

In the meantime, I’ll be grateful for a four-year-old who climbs all over me, plants hundreds of kisses all over my body and says “I love you” with such intensity. I will allow myself this sweet denial, and refuse to believe that one day she, too, will be a teenager. I am still tripping over things, but now I’m tripping over dolls and shoes and iPod wires and other electronic accessories. And I know that my bar mitzvah boy will come around. It may take a few months, or a little longer, but I’m pretty confident that within the next year he’ll find that it’s not so bad to give your mother a hug and kiss, or at least tolerate her affection.

I will continuously thank G‑d for entrusting me with this gift, with these cherished souls. I will persevere as I embrace this exquisite pain of motherhood, in which I do my best to hand my beautiful children the keys to my heart and the tools they need to leave me.

Chana Lew lives in Brooklyn with her husband and seven children. She is passionate about self-respect, authenticity, all things birth, informed choice & fresh, clean food.
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Anonymous Brooklyn, New York August 1, 2012

I'm noticing that it is difficult for people who suffered great losses in the child-rearing department to handle a woman rightfully and properly discussing the relative "suffering" of a healthy child leaving home.

Those of us in that category (losses) should not be talking with this author - we can only envy her, not sympathize. Reply

Leah P, aka, InmemoryofYossi Richmond, Virginia August 1, 2012

To I read the article, and my first thought was exactly what you thought. Then, I realized. Thank G-d Chana has never experienced what we did. Celebrate the fact that she can cry over her son turning 18 and pray she (and no other mom) knows the pain we know.

I hope Hashem will give you peace. You can ask to give you my email address if you want to talk. Reply

Anonymous BROOKLYN, NY February 24, 2012

from "this is pain?" Thank you, Renee.
You are right. Reply

Renee Chicago, IL via February 24, 2012

No Choice Necessary No one needs to analyze the pain of a child never becoming independent vrs. the pain of a child inevitably becoming independent. Being a parent means living on the border of pain and joy in many different ways and it can change instantly as we all know. All parents need blessings and support, all parents. No one's life is perfect, no matter how perfect it may appear. Reply

Mohe and Geni Wellesley, Ma February 24, 2012

Great article What a great article!!! You go Chani!!! Reply

c longmeadow, ma February 23, 2012

great article. I too am having the same feelings! Reply

Anonymous BROOKLYN, NY February 22, 2012

this is pain? having children who grow up and out and away, detach from their parents in a normal way and become independent adults, is painful?

the opposite - children who G-d forbid don't ever grow up and away - is much more painful

and it's the kind of pain doesn't ever go away, no matter how much makeup one puts on

this (the life the author is describing) is utterly blissful.

stop the crying and count your blessings. Reply

Elana Kahan Brooklyn, NY February 22, 2012

Thank You Thank you Chana. Thank you. Reply

Kishka Atlanta February 22, 2012

Beautiful What a beautiful article. So nice to see someone write so eloquently about this. And I thought sending my oldest to overnight camp the first time was hard! YY Reply

Anonymous Haifa, Israel February 22, 2012

JUST WAIT.. This is beautifully put...But you think this is hard? it gets worse...went through same, but now both sons are in their 30s and fathers themselves....

Where did the years go???? now the hugs and kisses are for their own children.

Thank G-d for the pain,but it is a pain we should all go through...It is a pain we should all have.....much joy to you! Reply

ShoshanaJ Pittsburgh February 22, 2012

Beautiful! Chani- I just loved this piece. It is so spot on! So even though I'm still tripping over Little People, wooden trains and dolls, I think it's important to keep the part about them not belonging to us in the back of my mind. Maybe it will help me have a bit more patience today! Reply

Meshugana Mama Huntington Bh, Ca. February 22, 2012

I need a takeover!!!!!!! Golly, gee, this gently "slugged" me in my stomach. What truth!
My heart aches that the keys my daughter holds to my heart are unbeknownst to her. Would that she knew that I was on her side long ago, now and always!
Let go?....too soon, too hard not done molding and making and showing her her greatness. I hope I have alot more time to make a difference in my 13 year old's life. I do need a take over to do it much better! Reply

Malka Miami, FL February 22, 2012

photo I absolutely love the picture--there's so much going on in there--I needed to study it for a while (and, yes, I saw myself in there, with my black hatted sons, as well) You should always have lots of yiddishe, chassidishe nachas!) Reply

Anonymous Hayes, US February 21, 2012

Feeling your pain! I can relate! I recent read a similar article called The Long Goodbye. Our kids grow up so fast and we do wish that we could slow that process or perhaps we're just surprised that it's over so quickly.
I have a 16 year old that was very comfortable with displays of affection and hugged me more than I hugged him and now I have to settle for patting him on the arm or back and he probably doesn't even like that! It's so sad and painful for a mama!
Hopefully we'll get a hug again some day! Reply

Anna Wheeling, IL February 21, 2012

Exceptional and heartfelt Exceptional and heartfelt Reply

Elissa Grunwald Brooklyn, ny February 21, 2012

Bittersweet, truthful and beautifully put. Thank You....You touched my soul and put my feelings in to words and yes made me cry (waterproofing necessary). They grow so fast it was just yesterday that I recall my daughter arranging every single toy she owned in the livingroom, so happy that she was happy I never saw a mess. She is now taking her road test and will have her independence, we are part of them and they take our heart with them. But yes, "they do belong to themselves". May you have lots of Nachus and joy always. From a mother who feels the same! Reply

Nachama Barrie, Ontario February 21, 2012

Growing up I know well what this article is saying. I too went through this in a big way...but more when they actually moved away to start their own lives. Now I have grandchildren and I understand the "circle of life." It is a beautiful thing. Not only did I raise beautiful and responsible children (with their dad and our community) into adults, I also now see the fruits of our labors in the values and love that they instill in their children. How amazing is life! Reply

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