"Teen removed from household"

“Teen removed from your household,” the subject line in the email startled me, an involuntary gasp coming from my lips, loud enough to be heard before I could take it back.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” Rebecca asks from her place at the desk behind me, across the room, sounding worried. Hesitant.

Luckily my back is to her, but she has bionic hearing. One of her many gifts.

“Nothing sweetheart. Just Amazon letting me know you've been successfully taken off of our Family membership. You should be good to set up what you need on your own now.”

I keep my face turned way, not wanting her to see the tears on my cheeks caused by what Amazon put into just five words: the reality that is now facing me. The reality I am not yet ready to accept.

"Teen removed from your household. " The marketer who thought of that line doesn’t have a family.

I struggle with my tears, concerned about the noise they may cause. I push back from the table, the chair scraping loudly. Ugh. I don’t want to draw more attention to myself.

“I’m just going to get some coffee. Want anything?” I ask out of habit, certain the answer will be no.

Her life is unfolding right before her very eyes, her college-freshman virtual orientation just wrapping up. She is now busy navigating the complex disentanglement of her adult-self from the briarpatch of what it has meant to be a teen in our home for the past nearly 18 years. A triplet teen, one of the Hanson Five. One of “The Girls.“

“No, Mom, I’m good.”

"Teen removed from your household. " The marketer who thought of that line doesn’t have a family.

I look back over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of her, mentally reminding myself of the upcoming heartbreak: you only get a few more of these; better take them now! Rebecca is bent forward, glasses slipping down her nose as she studies the computer screen, her fingers flying across the keyboard.

You’re strong Heather, you can do this.

I sound desperate in my mind, the tone pleading, as I head to the Keurig.

I’m find myself staring down at the coffee machine, alone in our rental kitchen, a gem of a place we quickly turned into our home (I hear myself telling the kids, “Home is where we are!”). The 100-year-old stone cottage is just two miles from the Lewis & Clark campus, snuggled into a native Oregon landscape, with a gorgeous view of the Willamette river from the back terrace.

Wishing that the coffee would miraculously become wine, I reach for the Peet's French Roast pod, popping it into the machine and daydreaming about being alone in the house, pouring myself a glass of Willamette Pinot Noir (It’s the Willamette, Damnit.).

No, that would make me alone. That would make me not be the perfect mom that I am trying to be. The mom that is holding all of this together. That would make me “selfish Mom.” And I am not going to be that Mom. At least today.

Hot coffee in hand, filled with Keto creamer and Collagen chocolate powder, I am recovered enough to return to the family room.

Rebecca is still at the computer, but turns to face me as I sit on the couch, where I am content to just study her for a while, presumably without her being aware of what I am doing.

Fat chance.

“Mom, did you know I could get an Amazon College account on my own? The first six months are free and then only a small monthly charge,” this all comes out in a rush, earnestly, as she looks at me, seeking validation for the idea, permission from me. Her Mom.

I encourage her, “that sounds good honey, you should do that. You are off the family account now so all should work. Let me know what other things you want out of. ” I raise the coffee cup to my face so she can’t see the trembling in my mouth. Almost there, almost there. You can hold it together. For her sake, you will hold it together.

“Okay mom, I will think about it. But I think all is good now.” She lights up at my validation and turns back to the computer, eager to sign up and continue her exploration.

I keep staring. I decide this time will be different. This time I will allow the tsunami of emotion, this incredibly uncomfortable, painful combination of joy and grief, to envelop me, enfold me, force its way into every nook and cranny of my being with such pressure that I am no longer sure where I end and it begins.

I am suffocating, and everything in me screams for release.

I decide this time will be different. This time I will allow the tsunami of emotion, this incredibly uncomfortable, painful combination of joy and grief, to envelop me, enfold me, force its way into every nook and cranny of my being with such pressure that I am no longer sure where I end and it begins.

Ah, yes, this is the point where you reach for the poison that will cut off the feeling. This is where you deny what is happening outside to shut off the ache, the pain, the reality of what you are experiencing inside because isn’t it easier to deny what is happening with a bottle of wine than to sit in this pain? No! I will not do that.

I will not ruin Rebecca’s flight off the precipice into Adulthood that she has worked so hard for.


I will not allow myself not to feel all of the sensations that are coursing through me now because this is what life is. This is what we are here for.

To feel.

To be.

To experience.

I allow the highlight reel of her life to play out in my mind, closing my eyes and relishing the sensation of sitting with it all.

Indulging my pain, but not lingering there, recognizing that there are scenes I could label, but ultimately that each is a contributing layer to the strudel that is Rebecca. That the beautiful dessert I see sitting here before me is a product of all ingredients in her life.

Her birth, a screaming, angry small reddish-brown 4 lbs.11 oz bundle with black hair, so different from her sisters. Baby C, the youngest, the shortest, the darkest, the one with glasses, the one determined to stay ahead of her sisters no matter what. First in college, first to have a job, first to drive. First to leave. I knew it was going to be hard, but this, this pain, I never imagined.

I recall our initial conversation about leaving for college in January, taken at the dining table. I wrap my hands around the coffee mug and settle in to the memory of our journey here so that I may feel it all. Just feel.

I'm sitting across the dining table from her, yelling that if she thinks she is going to college in three months she has a lot of work to do! And don’t you think that if that is what you are going to do you are going to need a plan! That I will need to help you?? How will you pay for this?

She pushes away from the table, running upstairs to be alone. Never wanting anyone to see her cry, her carefully constructed layer of perfection cracking, and embarrassed that we should see. Ashamed that maybe she doesn’t have all of the answers and may need to ask for help.

I run up after her, eager to show her I care. That I can help her. She is huddled at her desk, rocking back and forth, crying.

“Just get away! Go away! I don’t want you here!“ she pushes out through the tears.

“But I'm just trying to help! I'm here to help you!“ I plead, desperate to break in and support her.

I pepper her with questions, pushing through even though I see that she is crumbling. I push, push, push, because that is what I do. Do you not have the dates? Do you know when the deadlines are? What is the cost? Have you set up the interviews?




Her glasses are slipping down her face, snot is running down her nose and she is gasping like a fish out of water. Her hands are quivering above the keyboard as she blindly searches for answers to my questions that are relentless and keep coming.

I'm ashamed as I see the trembling mass she has become under my interrogation.

I grab her hands, tell her to stop. We don’t have to do this now.

I have the answer I need. She does need help. I have broken through her wall of silence to get an answer.

I have broken her.

Is this what I need?

I am horrified, having passed ashamed long before.

She just cries more, begging, “Please leave. Please leave. I don’t want you here.”

She sounds like a wounded animal.

I leave, appalled at myself.

Cannot believe I pushed her like this. What is wrong with me?

The next day we are sitting on the stairs to her room, she is on the step above me, I situated one step below.

She is fully recovered, mask back on, her perfect armor back in place.

The incident hangs in the air between us. I ask her the question I must to get rid of my guilt, to take the punch in the gut, my punishment.

“Are you mad at me?”

She looks up, no hesitation, “Yes. I’m mad. And I'm still mad that we had to leave our house.“

Wow. Gut punch indeed. Not expecting the answer about the 337 Ashby house.

I reach for her hand, desperate for contact.

She pulls away, rising from her seat. She is done with this. I am punished.

I console myself with thoughts of self-righteous accomplishment. Pat myself on the back: at least I’ve woken her up to the reality that if she wants to get into college and leave in January, well, she better get a move on.

I get up from the stairs and walk away, resigned to be the "bad mom" that I am. The one that nobody likes but at least pushed through for her family and gave them everything I thought they needed.

But that doesn't feel so good now.

“Mom! Mom!! We did it!! "

I look up from my computer to see Rebecca’s smiling, joyous face as she rushes around the hall corner and bounces into our room.

“We did it!! I got in!!!” She leaps into my arms, hugs me. I whisper in her ear, “Oh honey, we didn’t do it. You did it.”

I silently, prayerfully hold the fact that she has said “we” in my heart, knowing that our work together - the plan, the check lists, the emails, the financial forensics by the FAFSA and the colleges, the interviews, and the personal letters affirming that yes, I am “poor” enough to deserve aid - which came as a result of our blow up were instrumental. Yes, true, but at the end of the day, this is hers.

She did it. Not we.

And now she is going to Portland Oregon.

What have I done?

“We did it!! I got in!!!” She leaps into my arms, hugs me. I whisper in her ear, “Oh honey, we didn’t do it. You did it.”

“Mom, are you ok?” Rebecca is standing across from me at the dining table. I have been lost in my thoughts and didn’t hear her approach.

“Yes, honey, I’m fine. All done?” I admire my masquerade as the lie slips easily from my tongue. My determination to not cause her any pain is winning. Good.

“Yes! It was fun. We played a trivia game about the college and I knew most of the answers. All of that research on the college history really paid off,” she beams as she reports her success.

I’m proud, as always. Her curiosity and thirst for knowledge have again surprised her.

Not me, though. Never. Her beauty, wit, intelligence and drive have always been obvious to me.

And as I look up at her, my heart lurches out of the pain, and moves into the joy.

And in that moment I know that I can do this. Because she wants this. She decided this.

And this is what we raised her to do.

To be. To want.

Yes, I can do this.

Because she is doing this.

My love for her will always outshine, outlast, and out-maneuver any type of selfishness my ego throws at me.

Yes, love is greater than fear.

And at that moment I know that tomorrow, when Sean drops her off at the dorm and I wave goodbye from the house, all will be well.

That although dropping my first daughter off at college doesn’t look at all like what I imagined it would, that is ok.

Because what I see before me actually looks better than what I pictured.

Because my daughters love me.

They love us.

We love each other.

We are healthy. We are here. We are together.

And that is more than enough.

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