I’ve been going around town, spreading my business.
And by my business I mean the business of letting go of one of my babies. Essentially, I’m going about and bragging to absolute strangers that my son starts at UNC soon. I’m babbling about how he plans to be a doctor. So I’m mostly telling his business, which has been my business until now, right? In response, some caring souls pause, looking at me closely. Candidly, I hear, “and how are you handling this”? Or they harshly intonethat change is coming. One person saw fit to intimate that they cried outright, unabashed, before their own child walked away into a bright new future.
I admit, until a couple months ago I had not thought this far ahead. I never really imagined hearing him plan his life, seeing him pack. Not when he was just a notion. Not when he was in the womb. Or even when I started him on his very first day of school-- too early, but a genius I believed in, at the tender age of four. His sunny outlook, open persona, and avid interest in knowledge would go far toward bridging the age gap between he and his peers. As a result of this early blossoming, I’m losing him to college a year too soon.
As the summer draws to a close, I think he kind of looks like a deer in the headlights, talking about fitting these things he’s collected into our two vehicles. I cannot imagine what I look like to him-- caring and confident, I hope. I know that while my own car will propel an emotional puddle-of-me back home, to a basically empty house. But what I’ll leave drive from is him, taking what amounts to another set of “first steps.” This time, all on his own, and for that I falter. While it feels like just yesterday we were prepping for third grade End-of-Grade testing, I now must release my grasp and trust him to walk on his own.
Part of me is melancholy to see him go, sure. But there’s an even greater part of me picturing the beauty of life he is now at the cusp of experiencing. I see he and his girlfriend sitting at a sidewalk table for a late morning breakfast at a favorite spot, watching the church crowd go by, basking feeling the peace of a carefree, unplanned day. I try to guess what my non-sports-loving son will be like at the first college game he attends, caught up in the moment of humanity, cheering in a way that’s unavoidable and gut-level-- will he wear Carolina-blue paint on his cheek, and if so, what will it say? I think about some random road trip he’ll go on that is just so good he’ll want to skip class, to keep diving into more of the world he hasn’t touched quite yet.
I wonder how much of this new life he will still share with dear old Mom. Will he think, at random moments, that he can’t wait to tell me about some small thing that happened? Have I become simply a title-holder in his life, or someone on his heart? A burden, a responsibility, or an esteemed being whom he’s grateful to have on his own path? There’s no right answer here, but the groundwork previously laid will come to show what we have built.
I know most of what I’m feeling is normal. Likely, you too will be startled by how fast the goodbye will come, fleeting minutes between Drivers Ed to walking around a hill of belongings in the living room. Can you imagine that kid that used to dangle from your neck, like a Velcro plush toy, replaced by a young man with his own plates, sheets, and towels. He’s talking about what furniture he wants to take and how it conforms to dorm rules. He’s got some shelving units, and some shared fridge with a new roommate, and you, dear Mom or Dad, you get to help pack and add to that starter pile for a new life.
You'll find an inner need to fill the last few days with as many ways to feel you contributed as possible, so you keep buying things. Last ditch salt and pepper sets. A bike lock. Baskets for organizing. Highlighters and notecards. A random journal. Candy. An Iron. Some plants. Tylenol. You want to find a way to assure yourself you’re still a parent, and you’re still doing your job right, prepping them till the very last second.
I guess, in a way, he’s already moved on mentally. Wednesday will find me moving him in with all his belongings, and symbolically making his bed for the last time. I see a rolling landscape of a future, wherein I try hard to be meaningful still. I wonder at what colors he’ll paint his life with, and when storms break out, I wonder how he’ll weather them. But, most of all, I hope he knows he can always turn to me. I’ll always believe in his ability because, from the first day we met, he has been a wonder to me.