I swear to you, as God is my witness, that I turned my back to make my eight-year old son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and when I turned around, he had graduated high school and left for college.
This is not hyperbole.
Well, okay, it is. But I swear it feels like it’s true.
I cannot believe it’s nearly time for him to leave already. I can’t believe all the school pictures that I have been painstakingly placing in the photo albums through the years are now finished. I hold the final and last one in my fingers. This photo of him grinning–so self-assured!–in his tuxedo and too-long hair (a little senioritis rebellion) is the endcap for his school years that began with the mother’s morning out that he and I pretended was “real” school, because he went with a backpack and a snack and came home with praise from the “teachers” and excited reports about the other kids on the playground—particularly fascinating for an only child.
And now he’ll be “coming home” at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I feel like turning to my husband and saying: “Did you know there was an end date?” Why don’t they tell you that when you bring your little bundle of joy home from the hospital? “Hey, New Mom, word to the wise. He’s already plotting how to leave home.”
While it’s true I have a couple months yet before we pack John Patrick’s bags and shop for his dorm furniture, I already see previews of the life to come in how his older friends, home for the holidays last year, behaved (so grown up!) and in John Patrick’s impatience this spring with his last few months of high school.
I promised myself that I was not going to be one of those clingy mothers who refuses to let her child stretch his wings and fly the nest. I want my son to have an awesome college experience, maybe meet someone special who we’ll all grow to enjoy and love.
But until then, I totally reserve the right (when he’s not present to witness it) to be as sad and bereft as I know how to be at the ending to what was, honestly, the happiest and most fulfilling eighteen years of my life.
I know he’s literally counting the weeks until he goes. He’s anticipating the official beginning of his new exciting life. That’s as it should be. His Dad and I will wait for him to come home and report on his new world, his teachers, and new friends. Before he leaves again.
And it figures, the dog he leaves behind doesn’t even like peanut butter & jelly.
Long before social media put us into each other’s pockets and thoughts on a moment to moment basis, we had discovered that bad things were happening all over the world. We weren’t just hearing from the next-door neighbor that somebody on our street had fallen down dead for no reason—we were also hearing about bizarre and awful things happening from as far away as Sidney, Australia. And when you hear about the problems of the WORLD in a steady stream, it starts to make you feel like bad stuff is constantly happening everywhere all the time.
I don’t think I’m unusual in my certainly irrational anxiety as I’ve watched my son go from one life experience to the next. Added to the worries of the last generation of “when she starts driving will she have an accident?” is the new concern: “will she have an accident and then be abducted by a serial killer because I know for a fact that can happen.” I’m not saying information is bad. We as a people long to know what’s going on with each other. Although Americans have been accused of only being interested in what’s happening in their own backyards, I think we’re all curious about the human condition wherever it is. It’s just that, instead of registering: “yep, that’s awful” over the discovery of a shocking story, we tend to gather up all the horrible, shocking stories (or rather the media does) and stack them up so high around us that all we see is a shocking and horrible world. And that is the world we are sending our treasured sons and daughters off into. Can they help but be timorous after twenty years of watching Mom & Dad hold their collective breath every time they tried something new?
I don’t think my own parents loved me any less than I love my son. But they allowed me the freedom to experience life on my own terms that I have never been comfortable giving him. (When my father was stationed overseas in the early sixties, my little brothers and I freely wandered post-war Germany like scavaging souvenir-hunters, happily dragging home ancient hand grenades and unexploded bombs. Come to think of it, my parents may have been a little more laid back than most.)
Possibly it was ignorance. In those days, you didn’t hear the words “child molester” or commonly consider the possibility that dear old Uncle Ray might be inappropriately eyeing your son or daughter. It never occurred to you not to let your child ride his bike wherever he wanted to go, or even be gone for the full day if that’s where his adventures took him. Was it really a “kinder, gentler” time as George Bush, Sr used to say? Or was it just a time where bad stuff happened and our parents were oblivious to it? Are the fears we have today real? Or are they just a reaction to the flood of horror stories we now all hear about in the world community?