My tears started flowing as soon as she walked through security at DTW. She's 17 and last January we said "yes, of course, let's make it happen" when she proposed the idea of going to California by herself for a 9-day leadership program. I encouraged her every step of the way. When she had doubts about whether she wanted to go or would be able to earn enough money to go, I did my best to reassure her. The excitement I felt for her sometimes overwhelmed me. She's this amazingly capable young woman and I intuitively knew this would be a life-
changing opportunity for this girl of mine who wants so badly to travel the world and meet all kinds of people face-to-face and experience life beyond our smallish town with little diversity.
I saw her 17-year old self walk through security and I knew she was going to be safe. I knew she was going to a very supervised program. I knew she would be picked up by a dear friend of mine who she would get to stay with for a few extra days. I knew she was coming home to us. I was so happy for her and proud of her. And yet all I saw in that moment was the 5-year old her with her backpack on and her kindergarten name tag pinned to her shirt as she came running off the bus, saying, "Mama!!"
I thought my husband would be the only one shedding tears when Natalie left for this trip. He's a softy when it comes to any kind of good-bye. But here I was, walking out to his car, with my tears taking both of us by surprise.
I'm not sure exactly what he made out but I remember rambling thoughts coming out of my mouth. "I know she's coming back, but when I watched her walk away it hit me that we only have one more year with her before she really leaves us to head off to college. Before she walks away for real. Nothing is ever going to be the same. How did this happen? Can you imagine how fast her senior year is going to go? Do you think she'll like me when she's an adult? Do you think she'll want to hang out with us?"
And a few of his tears returned. We hugged each other and just sat with the emotion of it all. When we got home and Mike went to pick up my 15-year old boys, he told them that I was feeling pretty sad about Natalie leaving and true to 15-year old boy nature they started making me laugh immediately with comments like, "Mom, pace yourself with your Facebook and Instagram posts about Natalie!" and "I feel like Mom is going to binge-eat chocolate and binge-watch House of Cards for the next 12-days." and "Mom, don't look now but I'm letting my cat out into the big bad world all by himself and he might not come back!" Amidst their teasing, I also experienced their sweetness as they gave me a few extra hugs and sat a little closer to me on the couch that day.
I didn't have any chocolate to binge on but I did have Netflix and I did watch 5 episodes of House of Cards. And I had an upset stomach all day. I cried a little more throughout the day. I was obsessed with checking my phone for any texts and with checking my Facebook and Instagram posts to see if Natalie liked, loved or commented on them. I read all the comments from the other moms who encouraged Natalie and me and shared their own stories of grown children going off on their own.
I realized too that while I was feeling all the emotions of Natalie leaving, I was also feeling all the emotions of my transitioning into a new stage of life. I'm turning 50 this year. I'm going through menopause. I'm more concerned about how to age healthfully. I'm wondering if while her world is opening up, if mine is getting smaller.
Later that day one of my boys asked me if I was done crying and feeling bad. I shared with him that I didn't know and that my crying and sadness weren't me feeling bad; they were just me feeling and if I allowed myself to feel these feelings they wouldn't get stuck inside of my body and cause me problems later.
In my own life and when I work with my coaching clients, I notice that as women we often don't want to feel our full range of feelings. It scares us. We label feelings 'good' and 'bad'. We chase the good and stuff the bad until we are so stuffed we become emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically unwell. It doesn't always feel possible to allow ourselves to really feel how we feel. We tell ourselves we have to hold it together and keep going. We feel weak when we cry or crazy when we yell. We don't want to cry or yell at work or in front of our small children. We don't want to be labeled as unstable or 'crazy'. We write off our emotions as PMSing or we let others convince us that's why we're 'emotional' and it'll pass and we'll be back to 'normal'. There are so many ways we shut ourselves off from feeling the gamut of emotions we feel. We eat, we shop, we post, pin and tweet. We eat more and we work and work and work. And if we do end up feeling the feelings that our culture names as 'bad', we often label ourselves with less-than-complimentary labels.
What I know for sure is that on this day where I was feeling a wide range of emotions, and sitting in sadness a lot of the day, I intentionally decided to allow myself to have the space to feel all of it. To feel it without judgement. It didn't matter who thought I was being overly dramatic or silly or ridiculous. First I felt sick to my stomach. Nauseous. And then I was exhausted. When I went to bed that night I slept deeply. I dreamed a lot. And when I woke up my sadness was less intense and my happiness was more predominant as I pictured Natalie meeting new people and learning new things in a new place.
My invitation to you is that the next time you have intense feelings, whatever they are - happiness, sadness, passion, fear, overwhelm, joy - to intentionally create space in your day or night to allow yourself to feel it all with no negative labels or judgments about yourself. What if you shared your feelings with someone you trust and what if you let the emotion flow through you so that it doesn't get stuck. What if you just allow yourself to feel.