Slice of Life: Leaving

slice of life

All day I’ve been dreading this moment. All month, really. But I’ve been able to put it out of my mind because I didn’t have to speak the words yet. Now it’s time. I have to tell him that I’m leaving. Not for good, of course. Just for a few days. The details will matter. He will want to know exactly what time I’m leaving and exactly what time I will walk back in the door and exactly how many days and hours and minutes there will be in between.

I love to travel to conferences, but traveling means leaving my son, and leaving is devastating. Leaving is what moms do. Leaving is everything that’s wrong with him now. Leaving is what I try to show him every day that I’m never going to do.

He has tried in so many ways to make me leave, to control the rejection that he fully expects by choosing it for himself. He’s done everything he can think of. He’s broken windows and furniture. He’s spit on me, bitten me, hit me, cursed at me, screamed at me. Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone. Nothing works. Here I am.

“I’ve tried everything,” he told me a couple of months ago, sounding a bit weary himself. “And you’re still here. So I think I’m going to stop all that.”

And, mostly, he has. He is trying hard to stop all that, trying hard to heal.

And now I have to tell him that I’m leaving. I’m coming back, his rational mind knows that I’m coming back, that as long as I am alive I will keep coming back for him.

But his body remembers that moms leave.

I believe in pulling the Band-Aid off quick. He’s folding laundry and I dump the words on him.

“I have to travel for work later this week,” I tell him. No build-up. No “I have something to tell you” or “we need to talk about something” first.

I see his body go still. He holds his breath. He looks down at the towel he’s holding like he doesn’t know what it is.

I run through the details with him, but he doesn’t hear me. After I’ve finished explaining three times, he asks me, “How long will you be gone? A week?”

I explain a fourth time, and this time maybe he gets it. I see him set his shoulders and take a breath finally.

“It’s ok,” he says. “I’ll be fine. I know you’re coming back.”

He says it lightly and starts folding again. He looks up to catch me watching him.

“It’s fine, Mom, really. Don’t worry.”

But it’s not fine. Oh, it’ll be fine while I’m gone. He knows what to do with feelings when there’s no safe outlet. They get bundled up tightly inside, pressed down in the gut. There they will stay and fester until I am back home. I know what will happen on Sunday night when I walk in. He will see me and his face will light up with pure joy. I will watch him exhale fully for maybe the first time since I left.

And then he will get mad. So, so mad. Because he was alone. Because I left. Because he was sad and so, so scared. Because his rational mind was telling him one thing all week–she’ll come back, she always comes back–but his body was telling him something very different–moms leave, moms always leave, they leave because you’re unlovable, they leave and it’s your fault, they leave and there’s nothing you can do about it, you will always be alone, you will always be alone, no one will help you, no one can help you.

He used to hold onto the anger, but now it dissipates quickly. I name it, he acknowledges it or denies it, and then I sit with him. He moves away. But I keep sitting, and eventually he tells me to move closer. And then his arms will be around me and he will cling to me as if he’s drowning and I will save him.

I will save him.





23 responses to “Slice of Life: Leaving”

  1. Ramona Avatar

    Oh, Elisabeth, my heart was with you and your son through this whole slice. I’ll keep you and him in my prayers.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Ramona! It was a tough evening and morning.

  2. Juliana Ellington Avatar

    I have told you this before, but I want to say it again: You are heroic!!!! And so is The Boy!!

  3. Stacey Shubitz Avatar

    Oh, Elisabeth. I felt as though I were right by your side delivering the news that you were leaving to your son. It’s so hard for all kids when we leave, but more so for your son. He knows you’ll be back… and that will be a wonderful reunion.

    Looking forward to meeting you in person this weekend.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m looking forward to getting to say “I told you I would come back” on Sunday night!

  4. Carol Avatar

    A year or two after I adopted my boys, I was explaining to my boys that I was leaving for NCTE. “I will only be gone for a few days,” I said. It won’t be long at all. And my son, who had been left so many times said, “To the person who is going it seems like a little while. To the person who is staying, it’s a really, really long time.” I have never forgotten the ache in his eyes when he said those words. Does he like the Baltimore Ravens? Maybe you could bring a jersey or something.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Such powerful and sad words from your son. It’s hard for my son if I’m even gone overnight–it feels like eternity to him. I try to be mindful and really save my travel for 2-3 times a year when it’s really going to count! I’m pretty sure he’d give me permission to leave any time I wanted to if I came back with a football jersey for him! That’s a great idea.

  5. arjeha Avatar

    My heart goes out to you and your son. Will be keeping both of your in my thoughts and prayers. Prior disappointments often cloud our reasoning even though we know things are different now.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You’re right: even when we know that this time will be different, we can’t always easily stop our thoughts and worries, even when we’re not especially traumatized!

  6. Julieanne Avatar

    Oh my gosh Elizabeth. This is heartbreakingly beautiful. I can feel his strength and yours in your words. It is so hard to leave, but it’s the right thing. You are both so strong. Like Juliana says: you are both heroes.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Julianne. He will be ok this week and stronger for the experience in the end, absolutely.

  7. Melanie Meehan (@MelanieMeehan1) Avatar

    Your post is SO real! His pain jumps off the page. He will also learn that you will be the mom who comes back–what a powerful message for him!

  8. Linda Baie Avatar

    Elisabeth, like Melanie, I do feel that some of what you do is the teaching him that you will return, always, but I’ve only had the connection like this with my brother’s older son, adopted late, so I only know what my brother experienced. I hope that this time, each time, gets a little easier for your son and for you. Best of wishes to you. This, “And you’re still here. So I think I’m going to stop all that.” is so, so poignant.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      And it was funny too, Linda. To see him be reflective about his behavior and choices and recognize that he did have an agenda that he was aware of at least on some level was so interesting.

  9. Michele Avatar

    Writing can be so cathartic. You’ve come so far with your relationship, it’s beautiful to hear about some of the small moments that really say so much.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s astonishing to see how much progress he’s made in 3.5 years. I have a lot of hope!

  10. carriegelson Avatar

    I can’t write a comment that captures my response to this. I have read it over four times. I cried twice. I smiled lots. I breathed. Then I felt guilty that I get to meet you in the spring because I am so excited and your son will hate that you are away. I know that what you do everyday, over and over, means so much over and over. For your son. For you. For the future. I can only thank you, again, for sharing so openly here.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I feel guilty leaving, for sure, but occasional breaks are also essential for my sanity! And I am very excited for “the premiere literacy event of the PNW”!! (Thanks for that, Mr Shaffer.) But it is hard on him, and I hate to see his despair and know that I am the cause of it. Homecoming will be sweet–well, after he’s done being mad. You are so often the reader I have in mind when I write about my son. I appreciate your responses to my writing more than I can express.

  11. Nancy Cavillones Avatar

    Oh, my. This made me so weepy. But I take inspiration from the way you handled it. Have a great time at NCTE.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Nancy! I love to have the opportunity to learn at NCTE, but I was sure weepy when I had to leave home!

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