In some ways he is already gone. Even the hours when he is here, he is somewhere else – ear buds in listening to music I don’t understand, texting with people I do not know, reading books I’ve never heard of, and surfing websites certainly not meant for parents. I’m proud of the fact that he is so independent and obviously ready to be out our door. Yet, my heart breaks at the thought of him being gone.
I watched him walk across that stage a few days ago, accept his diploma, grin for the cameras, toss his hat in the air. He celebrated for two days straight - eating every manner of junk food, laughing, throwing frisbees, solidifying memories to take with him when he goes. This is the last he will see of some of these people, but he won't feel that truth until decades from now.
It seems like only moments ago, he couldn’t remember to hand in homework and lost his shoes and jacket on a regular basis. Learning to drive stressed us both and I wondered if he’d ever be able to find his way without me or his father in the seat beside him. And now he comes and goes, driving to towns 45 minutes away, negotiating the city, and finding a friend’s house on a lonely, dark back road. Undoubtedly he makes a few wrong turns, but he figures it out eventually.
He will negotiate the world in much the same way.
I can’t imagine a day when he will not barrel down the stairs noisily, tease the dog, leave the open milk container on the counter and his socks on the porch. I miss him already and no longer complain when I find Dungeons & Dragons dice or Magic cards all over my house. They are evidence that he is still here.
I feel like this leaving is just one more example of the pain of parenting no one warns you about. The other stuff – sleeping through the night, potty training, starting kindergarten – there are entire books warning you about these trials, but no one tells you that one day this person who has taken up residence in your heart 24/7/365 for eighteen years is going to leave. And it will hurt like nothing you can imagine. There is no metaphor for this pain that is already casting its shadow on my heart even though I still have three months – three months! – before he goes.
For his part, he seems a little guilty. He is kinder and more grateful. Maybe he feels bad that he is so excited to get out of here and leave us. I watch him with his younger siblings. He listens to them more than he ever has – as if memorizing them. He will miss so much of their growing up and they have relished their front row seats to his adventures. This will be hard on them, too.
I don’t know when he discovered the horizon.For so long, he was mired here, stuck with our rules, our menu, our demands that he pick up, put away, eat this. Sometime, maybe just this past spring, he looked up and he saw it. He realized that he’s closer to that horizon than ever. In fact, he is on the precipice. He has only to figure out how to close a few doors and then he will be on his way – away from us. Life will finally start! No more getting ready. What we’ve done will have to be good enough. My record as his mother will be sealed and I get no more do-overs.
I don’t know how I’m going to come to grips with his leaving. But I am grateful that he is ready and that he wants to go. I will figure out how to parent from a distance, knowing that mostly I will pray. And I will write. And I will send care packages and e-mails. We will find a new rhythm in this house with four instead of five.