Because our oldest child didn’t follow the usual course, or at least the one we’d envisioned when he was a little whipper snapper — bright-eyed, blonde and boisterous and speaking in full and correct sentences well before age two — we missed a few steps along the way.
There was no college to prep for, no paperwork to fill out or campuses to visit; nothing of that sort.
He’s still discerning how and where he’ll spend his future, and though at one time this against-the-grain method grieved me, I have come to understand that this is him, and he’ll find his way a different way. And that’s okay. It has to be. Though unanticipated steps can be difficult to reckon with at first (we parents can’t help but dream about our kids’ futures, it’s in the job description), sometimes they are what make life the most interesting.
But also because of this I wasn’t expecting to feel what I have this school year as my friends whose kids are his age take the long drive to college, leaving their once-babies on the university steps and watching their faces fade through the rear-view mirror as they turn toward home, an empty space in the car and their hearts.
I’ve been, semi-subconsciously, living vicariously through my friends. One morning after our morning walk, Katie invited me into her home for coffee. Her son had left for college a few days before and his room was already all cleared out, making way for a new craft room. She’s been through this a couple times before and seemed fairly ready. But it was strange for me looking into that empty room.
I’ve seen other updates on Facebook — another of my son’s former classmates leaving here, another going there. It’s possible some, including those I got to know so well on last year’s choir tour, I’ll never see again.
Our other four kids are back in school now and in years past, it hadn’t come onto the radar, but this year it’s hit me. Our high school hallways are void of an entire class of kids — bunches of souls whose voices had filled those same halls with their unique sounds and forms. They’re just…gone.
Since my son didn’t go down the college road, I haven’t moved through the steps that would have indicated, “Something’s different, something’s changed.” And so instead I’ve had these seemingly random jarring realizations of these students I’d known since they were babies suddenly going M.I.A.
Of course, it’s all good. This is how it’s supposed to work. This is what kids do and this is how parents respond. From the minute we first hold our wee ones in our arms, we are preparing them for this: the exit. And yet, wow. Such a big void when they are suddenly no longer rustling around the home.
Katie admitted it was eerie that first day without her son. It wasn’t like he’d been there a whole lot over the summer, she admitted. But he’d been whizzing in and out frequently and they’d come to expect that whooshing sound as he flew from one thing to the next, grabbing food from the fridge on his way out, no doubt.
I did experience this during our family vacation. Our oldest was working so he couldn’t join us, and as we toured the city of Duluth, I kept looking back, like a mother duck searching by habit for the duckling she senses isn’t among the pack, only to realize he hadn’t come along on that particular journey; that he wasn’t supposed to be there. And yet…there is a sense…like a ghost trailing along somewhere. It’s the oddest thing.
So, I’m just pondering all this now, these children who are the classmates of my oldest, because this is a new thing for me. And even though I didn’t go through the “normal” mothering steps here, I’m still experiencing a lot of that feeling that things will never be the same. I am feeling the grief in that, because there is a hole. No one can kid themselves there isn’t. But also the hope in it.
My son has a whole big life ahead of him, too. I haven’t helped plant him in his dorm on some campus somewhere — and to be honest, I don’t think that would have worked anyway. Someday, I can see that happening, perhaps. He’s got the brains for it. But not the motivation it takes. Not right now. That and he’s never been one to do what everyone else is doing just because everyone else is doing it. And while it’s driven me crazy in moments, I’ve come to have a healthy regard for it, too.
One of my favorite of his classmates and I went out for breakfast earlier this month. She considered me one of her moms and I couldn’t let her slip away without a good hug. But when she wrote on Facebook from the airplane bringing her to basic training the other day, I sat at my computer and bawled like a baby. Or a grieving mama.
Somehow, even in the absence of going through these motions of having a child leave the nest for someplace far away, I am being given opportunities to experience it anyway. What I’m feeling is real, and a little bit odd and unexpected, but I’m almost certain it’s preparing me for something beautiful someday.
Q4U: How do you approach the letting go times? What is the hardest part? The best?