Last year I dropped off my oldest son, Brett, at a college 825 miles from home. Needless to say he would not be returning for a random weekend visit…ever. While I was incredibly happy for him and knew that he couldn't wait to be a college student, I couldn’t help but feel some sadness too. Did I cry a little? You bet I did. He was ready for college. I was not.
I cried tears of joy because I was so proud of him and knew he would do well in college. He wanted this so much, worked hard in high school, and was ready to leave home and move on. I also cried some tears of sadness. I would miss our dinner conversations. I would miss seeing his smile every day. I would even miss the rolling of his eyes when he disagreed with me. I would miss not really knowing his new friends and I’d miss seeing his old ones — the ones I’d helped raise on countless weekends over pizzas and cokes. I would miss the comfort of knowing where he was at any given moment.
It was hard to say goodbye that day yet I was able to “keep it together” because I still had another son to raise at home and he still needed me. My job as a stay-at-home mom was still in demand, and because now I only had one child in the house instead of two, my younger son, Dylan, had my undivided attention for the first time ever.
I have spent the last few weeks in the college/dorm departments of just about every store in town. Lots of time has been spent packing crates, bags, and other organizers. Dylan is leaving for college next week. I will be dropping him off at his new “home” almost 1,000 miles away. Again, no random visits will be forthcoming.
POOF! Just like that, my kids have grown up and I’ve officially been DOWNSIZED. Downsized from a job I never knew I wanted until I found myself doing it and soon realized it was my dream job. The position of “stay-at-home mom” is no longer required. The family unit I ran as “domestic engineer” is no longer in need of the same services. The position has been eliminated.
Raising my boys has been my job for so long that the idea of NOT doing that blows me away. No longer will I pass by their bedroom doors and see mountains of dirty clothes that need washing. There will be no one around that needs reminding to keep the wet towels off the bathroom floor. No one there that needs me to point out that the empty pizza boxes and soda cans should go in the trash when they're empty. No longer will I have to ask anyone to “keep it down a bit” when my house is filled with the sounds of rowdy boys and I can barely hear myself think. My refrigerator will be fuller, my bathrooms cleaner, and my house will be quiet. Too quiet.
Don’t get me wrong. Just like his brother, I am beyond happy, proud and excited for Dylan and all the amazing things that await him. He has worked incredibly hard and deserves all the wonderful things that life has in store for him. I cry happy tears just thinking about his incredible future.
Still I have this feeling of grief that I can’t ignore. Yes, grief. Not the kind of grief I felt over the loss of my loved ones. Rather the type of grief that comes from a ending or change in one’s life. My grief comes from knowing that after 19 years of being needed every day, that part of my life is ending. Both of my sons are young adults now and while every child NEEDS their mom, they won’t need me the same way. With each passing day they become more and more independent. This is a good thing. A GREAT thing. Still, it's a tough pill for this mom to swallow.
With my youngest leaving home, I recognize things will never be the same. My sons will probably never LIVE in my home again, just come for visits. I have shared my feelings with friends (who all want to be supportive) but unless you’ve walked in these shoes it is hard to understand. “Aren’t you happy for him?” “Isn’t going to college a good thing?”, “I can’t wait until mine can leave!” are things I hear all the time. Of course I’m happy for him, college is a great thing, but I wouldn’t be so quick to wish them away. I used to feel that way once too.
Lots of people like to say that life is like a book. They believe that kids heading off to college are beginning a new “chapter” in their lives just as their parents are starting their chapter as “empty nesters.” I don't see life quite the same way.
Life is too fantastic to be contained in just one book. I believe life is more like a saga. A series of incredible books. CHILDHOOD is just the first story of the series. We all have one of those that we have written.
For Dylan, he, his dad and I, and his brother were all the main characters. His relatives and many friends all had big parts too. It was set in our hometown. His vacations were “our vacations” and I was there for almost all of his firsts. DYLAN’S CHILDHOOD is HIS story - the first book in his life's saga, yet I have been such a huge part of the story that I certainly had a hand in helping to write it. After all isn’t that a mom’s job? (and a dad’s too!) All that sage advice helped to shape my son into the person he’s become.
Next week he will begin a new story: YOUNG ADULTHOOD. Like his older brother, it will not be set in his hometown but rather will begin in his college town where he will be spending the next four years. I will no longer be a main character in his story but rather take on a “supporting role”. His brother, his closest friends, and his new friends, the ones he will spend every day with, will be the main characters in this story with him. All the new and incredible things that will occur during this part of his life will be its focus. I won’t be with him every day, but rather will be waiting by the phone, anxious to hear how his story is progressing. Just knowing he is on his own and figuring things out for himself will be emotional for me. I will give advice when asked and always be available to listen and support him, but I know he will need to do things on his own too.
As for me, I’ve already written 3 stories in my life: MY CHILDHOOD, MY YOUNG ADULTHOOD, and RAISING MY FAMILY. Next up for me is ADULTHOOD WITHOUT KIDS. I’m not quite sure what life has in store for me with this next part of the saga, but I believe there will be many amazing things that await me just as there will be wondrous things awaiting my sons.
But for today at least I will treasure the last few days I have in helping to write Dylan’s CHILDHOOD story. I'll help him fill the last of his boxes and remember to pack plenty of tissues for myself.