Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye

Dillon In Motion

I know I said Pt. 3 was the final installment but apparently he’s leaving home again. With this continuing thing called “college,” Pt. 4 became inevitable.

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 have been 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 at that.

It starts early, the pulling away; about 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 up 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, 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.

Me n' Dill 1998-9

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, to my work, to 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 you’ll find hilarious (which you do). The guy who listens and converses like an interested adult when you take long drives or get caught in traffic. Who introduces you to a new hiking path, turns you onto songs he claims “you’re gonna love,” brings home Pinkberry unexpectedly, or checks in on nights he knows you’re alone and a little blue. That kid. You like 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, and 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 do good this semester. We love you and will see you soon. Bye, bye….(damnit, I can never find Kleenex when I need it… )

Me n' Dill 13

Younger Duo photo by Dean Fortunato
Older Duo photo by Ben Chandler
Skateboard photo by LDW

To read the entire 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…
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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Empty Nest Pt. 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home

The 19-year old boy-man is coming home for summer break, his first substantial period under our roof since leaving for college in August of 2010, and this event is something to both ponder and celebrate. What used to be a given – his being a daily part of family life – is now a novelty. A delightful novelty, but a novelty nonetheless.  As the woman who birthed the boy, I am left to ponder: how on earth did that happen?

me_&_baby_Dill_001I remain unconvinced that growing up and leaving home is just a required part of the program. In my own case it was but in his…well, somehow it strikes me differently. I’ve always felt if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and we had a pretty unbroken thing going. He was a delightful companion, a relatively responsible roommate (though I admit the early years with the diapers and spoon feedings were a tad one-sided), a stellar entertainer and quite the flexible traveler. There were tantrums, I admit, occasional lapses in academic devotion and the limited food palate could be a challenge, but he was never incorrigible and generally thought we adults were cool.  He was like living with your best friend through the various stages of your best friend’s life right down to the moment he figured out HTML and could build your website — then it just seemed silly to let him go.

But fine. Growing up is mandatory. I get it; I applaud it even, and find this grown child of mine as captivating as the two year old. Which prompts another twist: I still want to hang out with the two-year-old – and the seven-, ten- and 13-year-olds – while I’m living in present-time with the 19-year-old (imagine that scenario: the adult child wrangling his younger selves while I make grilled cheese and chatter happily with my gaggle of time travelers!). Since this option is not offered, the bigger conundrum becomes the current child’s step-by-step and apparently inevitable departure from home. From where he sits, leaving home is an exciting, open-ended adventure to the rest of his life. From my perspective, it’s as if my job description suddenly hit planned obsolescence and, like that aging salesman who’s walked gently to the door with a gold watch in hand, I’m unclear of my relevance in this new era of child development. Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome.

King Dillon

But life is a constant work in progress and I’m leaning into the phase. The truly painful early months post his departure were followed by eventual, if begrudging, acceptance and early-stage construction of a new life formed around the childless home. And it’s a good life. I’m busy and creative and often find the freedom exhilarating. I have more time to myself, more time with my husband, the house is neater, and I don’t have to make school lunches every night. I find true pleasure in knowing how happy he is and how well he’s doing in school. Yes, there were the sometimes-awkward campus visits when he’d sweetly make time despite his clear preference to be with friends; the less awkward visits home when he simply was. I see him try to find the balance between being a considerate son and one who’s rushing inexorably toward the pull of independence. And as much as I cringe at being seen as any kind of obligation, I’m touched that he’s aware there’s a balance to be found. It’s all new territory and the scriptless nature of it will continue into our first summer break.

And what will that be? Will it feel like he’s just visiting for longer than usual between semesters or that he actually still lives at home and just goes away to school from time to time?  I want to believe the latter. I’m pretty sure it’s the former.

cartoon Dill by Ashley Yamasaki rAs we edge closer to this second chapter of Empty Nest, what’s coming into view is the reality that once the child leaves home for that first school year away, nothing is ever quite the same. We will get into familiar rhythms of dinner around a good movie, card games at the table, hikes down to the jetty, meals and plans and trips together, and it will be wonderful and I will cherish every minute. But unlike before, when this was just OUR LIFE, when time stretched before us so wide and open and whatever happened today might happen again tomorrow and we didn’t need to talk about it or look too far ahead because it was just there, unfolding naturally every day; Family. Mother, Father, Son. What it is now is…I don’t know. I’m not sure. We’ll see. Send suggestions.

Because that’s the chapter we’re on. Transitions. Coming back, leaving. Coming back, maybe for a shorter period, then leaving again. Coming back perhaps briefly, then leaving…maybe for good. It’s the damn circle of life and while we gather ’round Pride Rock and sing in celebration of growth and change and finding our way on the path unwinding, it hurts like a mother to let go of your child.

Here’s a question posed to me the other day by someone who meant well but clearly hasn’t been down this road to know the quirks: “Whaddaya want? You want your son to stay at home for the rest of his life, live in his room, never leave, always hanging on to you and his Dad?” Um…kind of? No…hell, no! Stupid question. Reread my paragraph about wanting him simultaneously at all ages of his life and you’ll get what I want, mister.

Dillon&posse_April2011

What I want to happen is exactly what is happening. I want him to embrace his adulthood; slowly and certainly unfolding his passions to discover who he is and what he wants to do with his life. I want him to have an absolute blast in college (within parameters, of course!), do well by his academics and learn a thing or two in the process. I want him to make great friends he’ll probably have for the rest of his life. I want him to continue to discover the wonders of love, taking the lovely manners he’s modeled from his father to always be the loyal, considerate, honorable boyfriend he already is. I want him to be an optimist, an activist, a person who isn’t afraid to stand up and speak out against injustice. I want him to find meaningful work that allows him to make a living doing something he loves. I want him to stay healthy, humorous, honest and humble. (The 4-H’s. There are other letters but I liked the ring of those!) Basically, I want him to continue on his course of growing up, which he is doing spectacularly.

And yet…I still want my boy. The paradox of motherhood, yes?

Books and articles and other mothers tell me I will always be needed, will always be somewhere on his radar. I believe that. I trust that my son will be a good adult son. He’s already a good almost-adult son and that he’s doing even with the distractions of college, love, and his first year of independent living. He seems to understand the paradox and finds ways to bridge the gaps: he set us up to play Internet Scrabble, allowing him to literally (as in words) kick my ass daily; we’re Facebook friends, he texts whenever there’s something of note to report and he actually sounds happy to hear from me when I call. And though he’s not great at returning emails and we sometimes go too long between conversations, he still tells me “we’re best friends, Mom.” I’m counting on it, sweetheart.

kayaking

He’ll be home in a few days for three months. It feels like a glorious lifetime of time. I plan to use it well. We’ll all use it well. And when it’s over, I know it won’t be as painful as the last time he said good-bye. Empty Next. We will stumble through, figuring it out; it’ll get easier.

Cue the singing wildebeest….

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To read the entire 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…

All photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.