“Is this how Mom felt?” I wondered.
When I was 18, I was a summer staff member at a Bible camp in central California. I met “Bob” there, the guy I was sure I was going to marry. You could’ve put moola on this thing and won. It was that certain.
A fellow summer staffer, “Bob” had everything: Kindness and graciousness. Good manners. Shared world views and values. A wonderful family. Drive. Ambition. A golden sense of humor. Faith as solid as an oak. And oh yeah, he could give Tom Selleck aka: Magnum, P.I. a run for his money in the “handsome good looks” department.
I was sure “Bob” was The One.
After the summer wound down, I returned home to San Diego to finish out my final year at the local community college. He started his second year at an L.A.-area university. We tore up the post office with daily letters. There were plenty of phone calls. Sometimes-visits (this was before the days of computers, email, and Facebook. You know, The Olden Days.)
When it came time to consider applying and transferring to a four-year college to finish my degree, one school topped my list: Bob’s. I applied. Was accepted. Packed my bags and headed to university the next September, sure as sunrise that my college career wound wind down with a proposal, an engagement ring, and a wedding date on the calendar.
Six weeks into my first fall semester, Bob dumped me. Talk about blind-sided. You know that deer-in-the-headlights look?
It was the most shattering experience of my young life.
Desperate for solace and support, I called my home. My hands shook as I dialed. Tears watered the phone booth (remember those?). My voice cracked with emotion as I blurted out to Mom, “Bob broke up with me.”
The first words out of Mom’s mouth were, “Well, you can’t let this affect your schoolwork.”
I don’t know what the heck she thought she was doing. But the message that came through loud and clear was: Losing the love of your life doesn’t matter. Your broken heart isn’t important. What really matters is your GPA. So suck it up, cupcake. Just grow a new heart and move on.
We never spoke about that major life event again.
Mom passed away in 1984. Our first child was born in 1991.
I’ve recalled that phone conversation from 1979 as my own children have encountered similar heartache decades later. I’ve wondered, “Is this how Mom felt?” Helpless. Aching from a distance. Almost as lost and broken as your child. Ready to hire the nearest rag-tag band of desperadoes, Navy Seal Team 6, most of the French Foreign Legion and Rooster Cogburn to mete out swift, sure “frontier justice” on the pathetic excuse of a human being who hurt your child?
Parental emotions are up and down like a roller coaster in these instances. Roaring one minute. Still the next. Mostly hanging on by your finger nails.
It hurts to breathe.
What I know now as the parent of young adults that I didn’t know as a young adult myself is that parents don’t always have all the answers when their child is in pain. Walking through deep water. Heart broken.
You want to rush in and help any way you can. Solve the situation. Do anything to stop their pain.
But we don’t always know how. Or what avenue is appropriate. You just want them to feel better. Fast. (Yesterday would be good.)
It doesn’t work that way.
So we sometimes kind of step aside. Wring our hands. Die a little inside. Not because we don’t care. But because we’ve been blind-sided too and are struggling to maintain or regain our own equilibrium.
A hurting child = a hurting parent. So we may stumble or bumble. “Fumble the ball.” Not because we don’t care. But because we care so much, we don’t want to make a searingly painful situation worse by saying or doing something stupid.
It took me over 30 years and four kids to figure this out. I’m still only about halfway there.
Anyone know the direct number for the French Foreign Legion?