The Ones We Leave Behind (Or Do We?)

TeddyTomorrow I’m off for a long weekend to Santa Fe, New Mexico. My BFF is getting married and I’m the matron (cough cough) of honor, and my daughter Lil is the flower girl. I am so excited to be there for one for the most important people in my life as she goes through one of the most important rituals of her life!

So why is there a picture of my three-year-old son, Teddy at the top of this article? Because he is not coming with us. He’s going to have a special weekend all to himself with his grandparents. This is how I’m selling it. And I know it’s true. I’m so thankful that they are excited to host them and that he loves spending time there. Really, there are no problems here.

And yet, I am totally bereft at the thought of leaving him behind.

Teddy is my special little buddy. He’s been a champion snuggler since the day he was born (hence his sometimes nickname, “the barnacle”). He started preschool at the beginning of September and his snuggling capacity has only increased since then – most mornings he crawls into our bed at 5:30 on the dot and proceeds to burrow into my side. I give and get dozens of hugs a day from this kid and I am absolutely savoring every moment. (If you’ve met me in person, you know, I’m a hugger!)

So the thought of four days without him just hurts my heart. And the fact that he’s obsessed with airplanes isn’t helping.

But here’s the thing. He’s an extra-strength barnacle in social situations. He still mostly naps for a couple hours in the middle of the day. He’s prone to collapsing in a fit of tears if his jeans don’t stay tucked in to his Spiderman rain boots. I can’t expect him to deal with jet lag, altitude, and meeting 100 new people and still have the energy I want and need to be there for my friend and enjoy myself. The best place for him to be this weekend is with his grandparents.  But I’m still sad about it. I don’t want him to feel left out.

Which reminds me of a lot of what I’m hearing from friends and clients lately: a sense of pre-emptive sadness at leaving a loved one behind. See, the people we draw into our lives are a direct reflection of what’s going on with us at that moment. A husband we met when were a little less awake and aware, perhaps even sad, is going to be a match for that old version of ourselves. When we start to wake up to more possibilities – to evolve – we can’t know if our partner is going to go along for the ride. They may prefer to stay where they are, thank you very much. And it can be very sad to feel that distance between you and someone you love.

Here’s the thing: You can’t force someone else to grow. At all, much less in the ways that would really work out nicely for you. All you can do is model staying open, following your passions, and evolving into a more robust version of yourself, and trust that your doing so empowers your partner to do the same. Not because you said so, but because your actions help them see that it’s possible.

My take on all this is that we owe the important people in our lives a chance to do their own growing before we decide it’s time to move on. It’s a finite period, and it requires you to check in with yourself and with them periodically – you can’t just hope it will all work out and then ignore it. But when you grow, your energy rises, and you just can’t discount the power of energy. It works in mysterious, mercurial ways. Your spouse, or friend, or sister, or whomever, may just surprise you in how they change into someone who continues to meet you where are now, not just where you were.

Now, sometimes, the person you fear leaving behind is an older version of yourself. You know, that person you were not too long ago and who you had probably been for most of your life. I think that’s part of the reason I’m sad at the thought of not taking Teddy, because I used to be very concerned with keeping myself ‘safe’ in situations where I knew the drill. Even though I’m very relieved and grateful to not be that same person any more, there is an element of grief when I think about her.  I see Teddy, but I also see me.

Anytime you evolve, it’s a birth of a new you and the death of an old you. If you overcome lifelong shyness, that person who used to love hiding out dies. In this case, awareness is always the key to change. Simply acknowledging that you’ve got some grieving to do gives that sadness the space it needs to rise up and then ultimately transform into something else.

For me, this weekend is all about space, space for me to support my friend and enjoy myself without a creature attached to my leg, and space for Teddy to do some of his own growing. He’s getting a chance to not be “the baby.” He’ll be his own man without a bossy sister around to constantly remind him that he’s littler.

(And I’m already looking forward to the mommy-Teddy trip I’ve promised him when he turns 4.)

Speaking of awareness, writing out this newsletter has helped me acknowledge what’s truly going on, and it has already started to shift. Thanks for being part of my process, and I hope you got something out of it too!

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