This is what really happens after the college drop-offMarlene Kern Fischer
I recently viewed an incredible video. Produced by the BBC and part of a nature series entitled Life Story, the short film follows the harrowing descent of a barnacle gosling from its nest high up in the cliffs of eastern Greenland.
Barnacle geese build their nests hundreds of feet up to avoid predators such as Arctic foxes. But as the geese eat only grass, and since geese parents don’t feed their young, the only way for the goslings to survive is to cliff dive 400 feet to the grassy feeding grounds below.
Urged by its mother’s distinctive call to make this alarming leap of faith, the film shows a three-day-old gosling reluctantly leaving its nest to drop, roll and tumble down the cliff wall. Battered and stunned, but alive, the courageous gosling is reunited with its parents on the isolated slope below.
While the narrator of the film extolled the chick’s bravery, I found myself unable to take my eyes off the mother goose. Watching anxiously from far below as her baby takes this terrifying tumble, uncertain of the outcome yet accepting the necessity of the leap, all she can do is wait. And trust.
I feel a bit like that mother goose. With a son in college and a daughter nearing the end of her high school career, I am watching my own children take a similarly bold dive into the real world, into meaningful adult lives separate from me.
The fact that I’ve been preparing my children for this independence their entire lives leaves me no less blindsided by the difficult reality of their leaving. From the moment we teach them to zip their jackets and tie their shoes before the harried rush to the bus stop, to white-knuckled driving lessons and emotional college move-ins, our children have been leaving us in a series of sometimes almost imperceptible little goodbyes.
My son was recently home for a short visit from college. On the night before his scheduled departure, he came into the den where I was watching a movie. He sat down next to me, rested his head on my shoulder, and started telling me about the film he was making for his media studies class. He mentioned his interest in studying abroad during his junior year, and shared stories about new friends in his residence hall. I tried to focus on his words as my body soaked in the delicious warmth and weight of him, my first-born son. And while my head counseled me to memorize this feeling because these moments of intimacy were surely numbered, my heart assured me that everything was exactly as it should be.
Each goodbye is a reminder of all that my husband and I have given our children. Their lives have been made up of a multitude of dress rehearsals preparing them for this moment. And preparing me as well.
Motherhood has changed me in profound ways. My children’s necessary and inevitable leap of faith is also my exuberant leap of faith. Of course I’ll miss having them under my roof at night, safe in their beds. I’ll miss Friday night footballs games, choral concerts, archery competitions and spirited conversations around the dinner table. My son and daughter have brought noise and light and life into our home.
But there are things I still want and need to do. There are poems and essays to write, important causes to devote my time to, faraway places to visit, and new people to meet.
That’s not to say letting go will be easy. Certainly there is nothing easy about a death-defying drop down sheer rock. But I believe that, like those indomitable barnacle goslings, we are all more resilient than we know.
And like that mother goose, I am choosing to trust that we’re ready for a breathtaking leap into this next stage of life.