Separation Anxiety

Three days ago my oldest son landed in Costa Rica. I thought that it would be the first time—ever—that he and I would go more than a day without communicating. Everyone told me that cell service was basically non-existent in the cloud forest. There was also no WiFi in the rooms where he was staying so if he needed to communicate with me he would have to email me from the student area.

He does not send email.

He considers anything longer than a six-word text essentially writing a novel, so, I had prepared myself for limited communication.

And then I got this email:

“I’m not in the same room as [the kids I’m traveling with] but that’s ok, I’ve made other friends…There’s no WiFi in the rooms so this is the last email that I am going to send. Love you! Bye”

It was like a knife through my heart. That’s it? I won’t get anything for the rest of the trip? He’s never been away from me for two weeks and certainly we’ve never gone two weeks without speaking. And now, nothing? I forwarded the email to my friend and wrote: “I’ve lost my baby…” (Very dramatic, I know).

I’d gone through this with my 12-year-old when he went away to summer camp but at least at his summer camp the counselors made him write home – even when he didn’t want to. And, they posted pictures of the campers so I could see if he was smiling and, most importantly, he was in this country.

My 16-year-old was in a jungle in Central America without me.

I was a bit shocked by his ability to separate from me so easily. This is the kid who checks in with me all of the time, the kid who has never wanted to be away from home for an extended period of time, and, yet now, he’s gone. Just like that.

I wallowed in my sadness for a bit but then I realized that this was what I expected and, most importantly, what I wanted.

I settled in with my book for the night when I heard a call coming in on Skype.

Really? I had just accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to hear from him and now he’s Skyping?

I almost emailed my friend to say: “Never mind. He’s back.”

He wanted to tell us about the giant tarantula in the common area and the scorpions scurrying around the rooms. You’re in a jungle, I wanted to remind him. Instead I said, “That’s so cool! Now go to bed.”

An hour later…

The phone rings.

WTF! (It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes.)

This time he wanted to tell us that he had switched rooms because there was a scorpion the size of a baseball cap in the other room.

Creepy? Without a doubt. But still, not an emergency.

I tried to remain pleasant—he was nervous about sleeping in a bed of scorpions—I get it, but I ended the conversation with this reminder: “You really shouldn’t be calling me. It’s very expensive. If it’s an emergency call me, but if not, send us an email. You’ll be fine.”

Nine hours later:

“Hi mom! I got some sleep.”

Remember when I wanted him to call? Well, now I didn’t.

I want him to be independent. He’s going to college in two years and I really don’t want him to have to call me every day. I want him to NOT want to call me – even if I want him to call me. Get it?

When he hung up he was mad at me for reprimanding him about calling. I chose the tough love approach. If I don’t shove him away, will he ever be ready to leave?

Twelve hours later…


I checked email, made sure I was still logged in on Skype and checked my texts.


Remember when I said that I didn’t want to hear from him? Well, I was wrong.

He can’t even send a text? I know that I told him not to call but he never listens to me; why would he start now?

I know I sound crazy but I’m struggling with my need to let go and my desire to hold on for dear life. I know that my job is to teach my kids to be on their own. I do not want them living in my basement when they are thirty but the alternative could be that they are living somewhere else and I never see them.

How do you navigate that fine line? How do you get your kids to want you around but not so much that they can’t function without you?

An hour later…

I hear the beep of Skype.

Damn, I really thought he wasn’t going to call.

Ah well, here we go again…




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5 responses to this post.

  1. My oldest is only two-and-a-half, but I can still relate, and will do so for the next twenty or so years, I figure. 🙂



  2. I remember when I used to have to peel my daughter off my leg to go to preschool. Now she accuses ME of being needy. sigh.
    Great post!



  3. I think it’s nice that he wants to share his experiences with you – except I would be paralyzed with fear after the details of his call. At least he was willing to travel to South America without you. You may want to send him a can of RAID!



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