I am in the midst of catching up to reality. My oldest starts college next month, I'm teaching both of my kids to drive, and my husband has been talking about where to live when we retire.
Aside from taking more interest in the miracles of cosmetic changes (e.g., hair dyes, teeth whiteners) and starting a fitness program last year, I've given lip service to the fact that I'm well into middle-age and no longer the mother of small children. It wasn't until the last couple of months that it hit me. Things have really changed.
It started with my son's graduation from high school. The school was terrific about preparing both students and parents for this transition. A few days before graduation, during the "Night of Reflection", students had the chance to publicly say thanks to their parents and peers. My son, an introvert, assured me that he would not get up and speak. Even so, I cried throughout. I was touched when he sat next to me during the evening, apart from his friends. It was his way of telling me how much he appreciates me.
The weekend of his graduation was a blur of parties and food, tears and hugs, with a visit by grandparents and an aunt from out of town. Having known many of my son's friends since grade school, I marveled at how they turned out--young adults going off to some of the best colleges in the nation. Knowing that I might not see them for several years or if ever again, it was bittersweet.
Two weeks ago, my son and I flew to Dallas, where he went through freshman orientation and registered for classes. As we drove up to the main campus entrance, I smilled seeing the university name, etched in stone, stretched across green grass. Over the next two days, I saw with my own eyes his new home and community--the engineering building, the freshman dorms, the dining hall, the library. I talked with other entering students and parents, also nervous and excited about what lies ahead. After meeting with his advisor and registering for his classes, my son met me in the student union. I could tell he was feeling more comfortable and proud. Our last task before leaving for the airport, getting his student id, was the capstone. He was officially enrolled as a college student.
When we returned from Dallas, I drove my son to a friend's house. His friend, who I had known since he was in kindergarten, was leaving in two days for boot camp, at one of the U.S military academies. His mother talked about the limited contact over the six months--one phone call in the middle of boot camp, one day to visit him on campus in the fall, and then two weeks leave at Christmas. I was grateful that I wasn't having to let go of my son in the same way--cold turkey. Photo by The National Guard.
I'm getting used to the idea of things changing. After driving my sons to the same school for the last nine years, I am imagining what it will be like, come fall, when the car will be shy one student. We will have a new routine. I will not be scolding my older son for getting into the shower at the last moment. I will have to be on time in the mornings. My younger son is rarely late.
Instead of the sounds of piano playing after school, it will be quieter. Again, a new routine. At dinner, our table wil be emptier. I will think of my son eating pizza and cookies in the dining hall, skipping the salad bar and anything even remotely nutritious. Going past his bedroom in the evening, I will envision my son still playing video games, only in another town (and hopefully doing more studying!) I will be the parent of a college student, living hundreds of miles away. If I'm lucky, I'll hear from him once a week.
I had an epiphany one morning as I was waking up. Over time, I've gotten used to having teenagers in the house--high food bills, getting into bed hours before they turned in, and updating their wardrobe with new sizes every few months to accommodate fast growing bodies. And subconsciously, I had another image of them in my mind--the photos of them from 5, 10, even 15 years ago, that surrounded me throughout the house and in my office. Seeing those young faces--babies, toddlers, mischievous boys, pre-teens--looking at me through the wooden frames, I secretly wished to see them in the flesh, at that age again.
I promptly removed from my bedroom dresser photos of my children from their grade school and middle school years. Instead, I placed them on a table outside of the bedroom, next to my son's high school senior photo. Instantly, I felt better, knowing that I would no longer be taken back in time without the context of the present. In my office, I replaced old photos of my kids, husband and myself with those taken within the last year. It has made all the difference.
This past week, my family prepared for a garage sale. It forced me to confront things in the house that no longer are useful, not because I bought the wrong color or received a gift that didn't grab me. These are things that are no longer relevant for who we are today. My husband let go of baseballs and cleats and bats, used for over a decade in a recreational league before retiring last year. My sons let go of plastic swords and light sabers and binders of notes, carefully archived from high school classes. I have let go of kids cookbooks and boxes of art supplies, knowing that the more artistic of my children will be off doing his own thing, in another place, and the more culinary inclined of my offspring now cooks without a recipe, making midnight plates of nachos. Photo by mel_rowling
Unlike when we first moved into our house twenty years ago, our life is no longer about acquiring and building out. It is about whittling down and re-configuring. I am preparing for the day when we decide we no longer need a fully furnished house with a lush yard, accommodating a family of four.
This is not all bad. With fewer things tying us down, we have more freedom. It was startling when my husband told me how little we need to live on, when our kids are out of the house. I can imagine a life with more travel and adventure. We just need to let ourselves dream. Photo by gnuckx
We spend our time differently now. Bonding takes place with me in the passenger seat and my children in the driver's seat, literally and figuratively. It happens on weekend driving practice through empty corporate parks or on the way to run an errand, discussing who has the right of way on the road. Or in teaching them how to light a charcoal grill.
At the beginning of each year, I choose a theme for the year, as in, "This is the year of <fill in the blank>." This year's theme? Letting Go to Grow.
I feel blessed to learn this lesson, alongside my family.