Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Naturally Speaking

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Well, I am happy to report that no tears were shed in the moving of my son into his very first apartment, prior to the start of his sophomore year in college.

And I have no idea if it's because it was so hot and humid on moving day that I had no moisture left inside my body, or if it's because I'm more mature than I was last year.

Actually, I do have an idea. I'm not sure if I've ever said this about myself before, but I think it's because I'm more mature. I know, I know - what a shock!

Now that I've had a weekend - and yes, a Cosmo or two! - to recuperate and reflect, I'm ready to share all my Deep Thoughts about life, liberty, and the empty nest with y'all. Ready? Too bad.
Here goes:

The first cut is really the deepest. (With apologies to Sheryl Crow.) Anyway. Last year, when my firstborn went to college as a freshman, I was a mess. My husband was a mess. We were a collective mess. We cried and grieved and just generally carried on like two little sissy girls and truly, it felt like a death.

And now I know, it was. It was the end of our family as we had known it for 18 years - the end of four of us under one roof, my husband and myself responsible for our sons' welfare and happiness and always, always teaching them - to be responsible, to work hard, be happy, close the top of the cereal box so the next person doesn't have stale Cheerios for breakfast, etc., etc. The end of our time as the parents of children. Now, we had to learn how to be the parents of adults, and we didn't know what that was like. We couldn't imagine it, and so we grieved for what we had known.

Well, now we don't have to imagine. We know that Older Son did, in fact, come home during the last year. Many times. We know that when he did, we always picked up right where we left off. We also marveled at how much he was learning, how eagerly he embraced his new experiences, how much he looked forward to more. All things he couldn't have accomplished still under our roof - and that's the most important Deep Thought I want to share:

This summer, this extended time when Older Son was home again, even though we knew it was just temporary - it was wonderful. Full of great family time, lazy days just spent hanging around and watching all three seasons, on DVD, of "Arrested Development." And of course, I rejoiced in having my family all together under one roof again. Yet...

I would look at him, hanging around on the couch, sleeping until noon, living by our rules, our schedule, our choices - just marking time - and I would say to myself, "This is not how a 19-year-old should live all the time." It was fine for the summer. Just long enough for all of us. But I knew that HE was bored sometimes; he started to chafe a bit toward the end, and suprisingly enough, so did we. Not because we were all together; that was, and will always be, a blessed time. But because this interlude felt exactly that; a holding pattern, all of us just treading water until "real life" started up again. And for my son, that couldn't happen while camping out in our family room.

At 19, 20, a person really needs to start living his own life, or learning to, anyway - and you can't do that when your mom is constantly asking you if you want her to make you a sandwich for lunch. No matter how many times you tell her not to worry about you, she'll still ask. Trust me. She just can't help it.

All this is kind of a long-winded way to say -

I didn't cry this time. Partly because I wasn't afraid I'd lose him forever - I'd learned, last year, that I wouldn't. Partly because I knew what to expect when we came back home without him - and the three of us (my husband, me, and Younger Son) have eased right back into the routine we established last year, where Younger Son clearly relishes his elevated status to One and Only.

But mainly, I didn't cry because I recognize, clearly, that we all need to move on - both Older Son, and his so-called elders. He needs to make his own decisions, establish his own traditions and routines. I need to get back to work - my writing has been non-existent this summer - and continue to look for new things, new ideas to take up the time and energy that I used to spend raising children.

He'll be back - we'll always be back together. For short times, and longer times, but never again the way it used to be, and that's OK. That's more than OK, actually - it's the natural progression of life, and when you step back, remove yourself from the equation and just look at your children and all that's ahead of them, you know that. Finally, you know that.

So there. No tears, some fears (we saw so many rat control signs in the alley where we parked the moving van!), but mainly -

Just joy. And some chuckles, as we watch our eldest grapple with life on his own (he had to wait three hours for the cable guy to show up - welcome to adulthood!). Happiness, to see him so excited about the little things we've long taken for granted. (When was the last time you announced to the world that you "couldn't wait" to put together bookshelves from Ikea??)

Thus endeth the Deep Thoughts on my son's second year in college. And I'm no fool. I completely understand that next year, when we move Younger Son into his dorm for Freshman year, there will be floods of tears again. (And more Deep Thoughts - lucky you!) Because that will be another end, as well as a beginning. And for a while, all I'll think about is the end, which is natural.

But sooner or later, I'll figure out how to be happy about the beginning...

Which is natural, too.


Laura said...

Well, you made me cry, Melanie. Enjoy this year with your baby at home. I have two years yet to go with Pom--and I'm sad already!

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I'm sorry I made you cry! But crying is part and parcel of these years leading up to the Empty Nest - one day we're excited for them - and us, the next, we're sad at how fast time has passed.

Some days we look at them and see them as they are; adults, really. Other times we look and see the 10-year-old who still liked to sleep with stuffed animals.