The day that every parent knows is coming came: my firstborn left for college. Mostly it seemed so far away, though some days it felt like it couldn’t come soon enough during those deep in the teen rebellion moments. But seriously – wasn’t he just wearing his Batman costume constantly and making me necklaces from dried pasta?
Now my first baby, at seventeen, is living four hours away. I don’t know what he ate for breakfast or if he ate at all. I’m thrilled for him. Really. But I’m sad for me. I know I’m not supposed to say that, that somehow it’s unbecoming and whiny or stalkerish or something. I am no helicopter parent, after all. I keep telling myself that it’s testament to what a good job we did that he’s so independent. But it hurts, dammit! I find myself jealous of the other parents posting about their Skype and FaceTime sessions with their college freshman (usually parents of girls, I note, though I’m sure that’s not really the case). We are not hearing much. Crickets most of the time. Last night he called asking for access to the new credit card number (side note: credit card fraud is a big, freaking hassle!) for Chinese food; it was not given and instead he was treated to a tasty helping of talk about allowance, living within one’s means, bla bla bla. And there was one glorious moment last week when he had an earache (he’s prone to swimmer’s ear) and called for advice. Yes…you, read correctly – I just basked in the glory of my son’s minor illness. That’s where I am at the moment, just being honest y’all. My other kids have suggested that my having put his graduation picture in the family room (instead of with all the other family pictures in the hall) is freaky and looks like I’ve made a shrine to a dead person…but I like seeing his face, so sue me.
When you’re trying to conceive (that’s ttc in interwebs parlance!), you think if you can just see the line on the test you will relax. Then when you’re pregnant you just want to get to 12 weeks, then the 20 week scan, then…and on and on. We imagine that once our kids are born or toddlers or big kids we will be able to breath a sigh of relief. Well, sorry to break the bad news but in reality we just keep kicking that particular can down the road. I’m sure if I called my dad he would say he still worries for me. But now, like my dad, the subject of my worry – this person I GREW INSIDE ME for, um, “heaven’s” sake – is far away and I can’t just talk to him whenever I want. It’s the plan, the order of things if we are fortunate (and I count my lucky stars, really I do) but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. It’s like my love is unrequited at the moment and I’m stuck waiting by the phone for a boy to call. Only it’s not some dumb kid from science class. It’s my kid and he’s presently very caught up with his own life. And it’s not just him I miss but also all his friends – the boys I watched grow along side mine who made themselves at home here, raiding my pantry and drinking my orange juice. Man, I would so happily buy limitless orange juice if it meant that my kitchen would be filled by all those boys right this minute. I’d say yes to ordering pizza or going for dim sum or another Chipotle run. (See a trend here? What they say about teen boys and their appetites is no joke and the way to their hearts really is through their stomachs – fact.)
When preparing for birth, most women are nervous about transition, that time right before you are about to start pushing your baby out into the world when you want out or to hit pause because it feel like you might die. In that moment it’s like your brain finally gets it that what was before, life as you’ve know it, is coming to an end and something new and unknown is coming to take its place. I think I was in a sort of transition from the time my son started his senior year of high school. Lots of poignant moments where tears came easily for me (and most who know me would say I’m a pretty tough cookie…yuck – hate that expression but whatever). Lots of “I don’t know if I can do this without dying just a little bit” moments. Like the time we were talking about some home renovation I’d love to do and he said, “I wish we had done that when I still lived here.” Say what?! But this will always be your home! Except in his mind it was already kind of wasn’t, not really. Ouch…a big fat reality pie in the face.
I had convinced myself that since he was out with friends so much anyway it wouldn’t feel that different…oh the lies we tell ourselves to get through the day! So following the advice I would give clients who are nearing birth, just before it was time to take him to school I instituted a self-imposed news fast, keeping out each and every gut punching essay about the parental rubicon of the moment I was about to cross…sorry Rob Lowe, I read your achingly poignant piece from HuffPo or wherever last year and I’m not making that mistake again. No sir. One foot in front of the other: that’s how I approached what felt like the second birthing of my boy as we packed the car and then unpacked on the other end for move-in day. And I WAS FINE! I congratulated myself on how fine I was. We went and got a drink and toasted to what awesome parents we were for not having left a trail of tears out of the dorm. And then we came home and I put on my pajamas and stayed in them for three days. So in case you’re wondering, baby blues can hit at about seventeen and three quarters years after actual birth, apparently. Mine took the form of Netflix binging and smeared mascara. I limited myself to just one pint of ice cream, which seemed like an achievement.
It’s been about three weeks now and I am pretty OK. The panicky feeling I was experiencing several times a day that I had forgotten something has stopped happening. I’m learning to cook for less people. My husband and I joke that having our son at college is like being in a cop show where they try to keep the kidnapper on the phone line in order to trace the call…anything for a little bit more time. I know he will come home to visit and for a little while it will be like old times with the mess and the empty orange juice container…and I can’t wait. Like when he was tiny, I might just peek in his room and watch him sleep*, assured that he is safe and all is right with the world.
*But don’t worry – I won’t be like that creepy mom in the kid’s book Love You Forever…even when my kids were babies I knew that was so not OK and I will not be breaking into his dorm window with the help of a ladder! Plus, he’s on the 12th floor, so…