The barbecue was wrapping up. My oldest son was running around in circles on a sugar high from the two cupcakes he’d managed to scarf down. My youngest was on the verge of a breakdown, arms reaching for me, whining to be picked up.
My body started to heat up, my heart started to pound, and a wave of anxiety washed over me. I eyed the nearest exit, wanting to grab both kids and take off without talking to anyone.
Before I had two kids, I was known for disappearing at the drop of a hat without telling the people I was with. This action is sometimes referred to the Irish goodbye, the French exit, or ghosting.
I had exit strategies for any outing with my friends. If there was a dance floor, I would simply dance out the front door. If we were at a bar, I would tell someone I was going to use the bathroom and then head towards the door. Once, I went over to a friend’s apartment and when he went to the bathroom, I simply walked out and texted him from the street that I had left.
When confronted, I would blame it on being drunk or make a silly excuse but, really, I was avoiding the uncomfortable feeling I get when saying goodbye. I didn’t do this once in awhile, I did it practically every single time I went out.
I’m not proud of these moments. When I think about my actions, I cringe. My ability to vanish became a running joke amongst my friends. I would show up to a party and they would say something like, “So, when are you going to disappear?”
When you become a parent, you want to avoid transferring your neuroses to your children. One of the many things I tried to understand was why saying goodbye is so challenging for me. Through hours upon hours of therapy and journaling, I realized that the stress around saying goodbye stemmed from my own childhood.
I grew up in a really chaotic household and I basically came and went as I pleased. I would simply walk out of the house without telling anyone where I was going. When I returned, I didn’t check in with anyone to let them know I was home.
We moved around a lot when I was as a kid. I never stayed in a school or house for more than three years. Saying goodbye to people brings up all of my anxiety associated with moving from one place to another.
Once in junior high school, I came home from vacation with my friend’s family to find my house packed up and a moving truck out front. My parents told me we were moving halfway across the country the next day. They refused to drive me to anyone’s house to say goodbye. I was too sad to call my friends to tell them I was moving, so I just vanished.
It’s because of events like these that I’m uncomfortable with saying goodbye. It was never a priority growing up. However, I wasn’t going to make any excuses for not being the best mom I could be, so I decided I was going to face this fear head-on.
Now when it’s time to leave a gathering, I take note of how my body feels and how stressed out I get. To calm my nerves, I gave myself a pep talk. Even Oprah chimes in with, “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” This helps give me the confidence that I need. I mean, what better way to overcome an obstacle than with a pep talk from Oprah? I then stand up straight and muster all the courage I have inside of me. I put a warm smile on my face and escort my two kids around the room to say goodbye.