There seems to be a pattern here: he grows up in a fly-by blink, goes off to achieve higher education; comes home for long summer breaks, but is then compelled to return to that other place he lives that is not here… not home. Though he tends to refer to it in such terms, I’d like to think that’s because no one’s there harping about laundry and keeping the bathroom clean.
It’s interesting how many times and ways you say good-bye to a child throughout their life. It seems to go on forever and maybe that’s the point: that the process of parenthood is evolutionary practice for letting go of so many other salient, important things… even life itself. I don’t know; that may be too heavy, but whatever else you can say about it, parenting is fraught with the demand to find balance between loving and letting go, and it always seems to find newer and ever more complex ways to test you on that.
It starts early, the pulling away, somewhere around the time of toddlerhood, when that three-year-old suddenly puts their foot down about a whole host of things (literally and figuratively). This streak of independence leads to the longer days of kindergarten, full-time grade school with after-school programs; then middle school with its natural drift from family to friends, high school with more of the same (including, now, the full-time passion of puberty), all leading to what one friend’s child called, “really big boy school,” college, where all of life twists into the practice version of their truly leaving home. Brutal. Freeing. Confusing. Exhilarating.
In looking through my series on Empty Nest Syndrome (links below), I realize we, here in this family, really are well past that initial rite of passage. He’s into his fourth year of a five-year program and if we hadn’t figured out by now how to gracefully transition from those long summer breaks to the exodus back to school, we’d be in trouble, because the next phase is fast approaching. The Actual Adult phase. When they move out, get a job, get their own place, maybe relocate to another city, fall in love, start building a life… on their own… no strings attached… no “breaks” to assuage the pang of missing them at the dinner table or seeing their bedroom messy, lights on, and occupied.
Yes, we’re good at this latest transition. We barely blink. He packs up his car for the umpteenth time and heads north with nary a look back, and before he can even make the turn onto the freeway, I’m into my day, my work, my own life; focused, driven, and with… a big, fat, breath-choking lump in my throat. Goddamnit. Why does this still hurt??
Because, at least for me, lucky me, this person, beyond being my son, is one of the best friends I could possibly have. That person who walks into a room and lights up the place. Who sits on the couch and shares idiotic videos he’s sure I’ll find hilarious (I do). The guy who listens and converses like an interested adult when we take long drives or get caught in traffic. Who introduces me to new hiking paths, turns me onto songs he claims, “you’re gonna love,” brings home Pinkberry unexpectedly, or checks in on nights he knows I’m alone and a little blue. That kid. One likes having that kid around. And yet, he has to keep leaving.
I don’t cry anymore when he does. Sure, I tear up if I think about it for too long, but I’m busy enough and good enough at self-soothing to just get on with it. And, besides, we’ll be going up for Homecoming, he’ll be home for Thanksgiving; there’ll be that long Christmas break and, well, we still have a few semesters left. That bedroom will continue to be occupied for a bit longer, time we’ll cherish.
Because we know that, too, will end. And when that last grasp of childhood is finally exhausted, when he goes off as the grown man he is, responsible for his own life, I will feel that next layer of peeling away, of letting go; of saying good-bye. Seeing him off to his own house, with his own dinner table and his own bedroom. I can’t picture it yet, I don’t have to… yet… but it’s coming. Just like every other phase of his growing up has come and been embraced, however mixed the emotions. I will deal, as I always do. But, wow. Loving a child is a wild ride.
Drive safely, sweetheart. Stop if you get tired, check in when you can, don’t text and drive, and have a good semester. We love you and will see you soon. Bye, bye….(damnit, I can never find Kleenex when I need it… )
Younger Duo photo by Dean Fortunato
Older Duo photo by Ben Chandler
Skateboard photo by LDW
To read the entire Empty Nest series, click links below:
• Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
* Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
* Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost
* Empty Nest Pt. 6: the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…
* Empty Nest, EPILOGUE: He’s Getting Married in the Morning
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.