A Look On The Lighter Side: Thoughts on how to deal with separation anxiety


Years ago, when my older son decided to return to his college campus a few days early from spending spring break with us, I told him I wouldn’t be sad. But as soon as his car was out of sight, I took the pruning shears and hacked a giant hole in the forsythia hedge.

His younger brother, then still in high school, could only stand by and watch, helplessly waiting for the carnage to end.

But he never forgot; and that’s why this week, he made me pinkie-swear not to harm a single hair or a single leaf on anything in the garden before he drove back to his own apartment in D.C.

He had quarantined in order to spend the past month with his dad and me — just in time to celebrate Father’s Day, show me how to make challah, and watch his older brother become a Ph.D. (yes, he did it!).

And before heading back to D.C., not only did he make me promise to take good care of the garden, but to send weekly photos, or as I call them, “proof of life.”

I guess you could say I’m not good at separations. Okay, I suck at them.

Back when the boys were little and we took them to visit my parents, it was always a dark day when we had to return home to New York. My husband tells me that he used to steel himself for the inevitable cloud that would descend upon me as soon as we got into the car.

He used to time how long it took me to cheer up (hours!). He’d have us linger at every rest stop, hoping that something there might distract me — even if it meant having to chase after little boys who somehow always headed straight for the dog-poop — I mean dog-walking — areas.

But it never occurred to me to wonder if my own mom and dad were feeling a little blue.

Of course, mine were probably the only parents on the planet who said, “Now remember, don’t call us when you get home!”

This arrangement had evolved because we usually got home at two or three in the morning. (All that lingering!) And you can’t call your parents at two in the morning. So they sat up all night, worrying and imagining our horrible deaths.

Instead, they began to say, “If you’re going to get in so late, just call us in the morning.” Which I always did.

There’s only one time I remember my Dad making a comment about my travel plans. It was after I graduated from college when I told him and Mom that, rather than moving back near them, I was going to find a job and apartment in New York City.

Dad responded with what I thought was a non-sequitur. He brought up the herb garden we had planted together while I was in high school, and said, “I think that the sage plant has died.”

Apparently, I can even kill a garden long distance.

But it wasn’t until many years later that I realized this wasn’t about the garden, at all. For a man who had no shortage of opinions — about politics, baseball, the weather…even the best type of apple (McIntosh) — he never said, “I wish you were living closer to home,” or even just, “I miss you.”

Now, too late, I realize that’s what my Dad was trying to say.

But now that I think about it, he’s also shown me the way out.

Because if he HAD said those things, I would certainly have responded that I had my own life to live, and I couldn’t lead it just to please him.

Which, if I’m honest, is the exact same thing my kids would say to me. They have their own lives to lead — and thank goodness! If my younger kid hadn’t been so stubborn about coming to visit — when I thought it was unsafe to travel — we still wouldn’t have seen him; and the older one wouldn’t have expedited that Ph.D. for the ridiculous reason that he wanted to move to take up a post-doctoral position.

So I’m growing reconciled to the fact that I am not in control, and that my kids will insist on leading lives of their own. I’m also very lucky that I have a garden to keep me busy; it will be all I can do to keep it alive!


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