Liminal Summer

Years ago, when I was deep in the trenches of my awful, and seemingly endless separation and divorce, I was venting to a friend, who after listening for awhile to my woes, said to me kindly, “I know it doesn’t feel that way right now, but you won’t always be in this liminal space.”

Being the avowed word nerd that I am, as soon as I had a few moments, I looked up the definition of liminal. I promptly fell in love with word and it’s meanings, and have since thought about it whenever it seems to apply.

Oxford Dictionary says this:



1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process

2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold

I think we encounter these liminal or transitional periods many many times in our lives, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been so consciously aware of existing in one as I have been this summer. Because when these brief months are over, my first born, the little girl who for the first four or so years of her life, refused to let me out of her sight to so much as use the bathroom without serious protest, is leaving.

Our spring was intensely busy, full of college decisions and prom and two graduations and all the stuff of the final months of high school. So much so that I almost never felt like I caught my breath and I’m sure she didn’t either.

And then all of that was over and we moved into the still busy but deceptively normal pace of summer. The time of work, more work, camp, try and swim and soak up as much sunshine as possible. It’s been so easy to feel like this is just another typical summer.

Except of course it isn’t. This is the finale, the wrap. The end point of our little threesome family living all together as a unit. And although I’ve been somewhat lulled into the feeling of all of this is just normal, silly things get my attention and I remember. Like this little container.

7 or 8 years ago, when we were newly on our own, we were shopping and the girls found and begged to get these matching sets of rainbow hued lunch box containers. We got them, it was kind of a splurge purchase back then at something like $6.99 a set. Back when they were so, so little and things were so, so tight. These containers are hitting their expiration date about now, most cracking and ready to recycle. Which really has nothing to do with anything but feels symbolic of this time in our lives. No more matched sets, my matched set, my twins born 7 years apart, almost to the day, are about to go in separate directions…

For most of the past few months, every evening, when I walk the dog, she joins me, and we talk and talk and talk, and I am keenly aware even though I don’t really want to be, that this is us soaking up the opportunity to do this, and soon we won’t be able to.

People say so many things when your kids grow up and get ready to leave. “This is normal, you’ll be okay, they’ll be okay. You will struggle, they might struggle. They’ll come back to you, they’ll still need you, they’re moving on to their own lives, you won’t be in their immediate orbit anymore.” Some or all of this is probably true.

Mothers, at least of my generation, were told to do the impossible task (when are mothers not given impossible tasks?) of both fully engaging in the care and feeding of our children for 18 years while simultaneously building this rich other part of our life we’re supposed to still have time and energy for, so we have something left when they’re grown and gone and no longer our focus. And like so many other aspects of modern womanhood, it’s easy to feel mediocre in every area because there’s so much heaped on. Grieve but not too much, hold them close but not too close. You have to be fully engaged, but for god’s sake don’t you have any other goals?! Maybe we do, maybe we did, but they got a little lost in the diapers and laundry and dinners and driving and all the things for all of the years….

August has arrived and the bubble of not now is thin. We’re too busy shopping to outfit a dorm room and uploading the 100,000 forms colleges need when they’re taking in your children, to pretend nothing is changing. I see her now trying to fit everything and everyone in, in these last few weeks. But still, the normal is all around us…the every day mundane, the sibling squabbling, the lawn to mow, the dishes to wash. But all of it is tinged with a little of the sweetness of this is almost the last time that….fill in the blank.

I have vacillated between feeling grounded and that this is normal and okay, and ugly crying so much I’m gagging and can’t breathe well. Rinse, repeat. Because whatever your take is on this time in life is, for me at least, it’s impossible to hold someone since before their first moments and live alongside them every day for 18 years, and pour your heart and soul into their growth and well being, and not grieve the ending of that daily time together. However right it might be for them to move forward, however right it might be for me to move forward. The grieving and the tears pay tribute to the richness of what has been.

If you look up the word liminal you’ll find people have varying takes on what a liminal space is, some even see it as something creepy. To me, it feels almost sacred, like birth, death, and rebirth, and the spaces between. We have been existing in that space between, about to step into the next phase, where we both get to grow into someone new, reborn into the next evolution of ourselves.

This summer I have felt viscerally that the value of living in the moment is never more apparent than when a goodbye is on the horizon. I have tried and failed to look very far ahead, there will be time for that later, when this liminal summer is gone.

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