Graduation is in a couple days, as of the time of this writing, and the boy leaves for college in mid-August. That’s right, my firstborn is about out of the nest, both the rickety personal nest he lives in and the larger nest of our family home. He’s the first of our four kids to graduate from high school, the first (of two humans) who I gave birth to (I give birth to great ideas all the time, ask my husband) and the first person who actually caused me to worry that the amount of love I was feeling might not be normal. I actually asked my friend, when my son was about six months old, if it was normal to feel so much love for someone that you sort of panic inside when you think about being without them. I’d stare into his little bitty face when he slept in my arms, and think, “My God, what if he just went away…poof?
Now, 18 years later, the universe is about to deliver the answer to the question I asked myself as a brand new mother.
It’s no longer a question of “if,” but “when.” What will I do when he goes away?
First, the easy stuff. I’m going to clean his room. In fact, by the time this publishes on the morning of graduation, I will have already cleaned it. I started doing that about six or eight months ago, after years of not doing it other than the occasional (once-yearly) deep clean while he was away on vacation. But this past year, I started doing it again, not regularly, just once in a while, when I would get sad about missing him someday. It began when we started applying to colleges. So I cleaned his room one day. I didn’t tell anyone I did it. He came home from school and just stared at it, with me standing behind him grinning and proud of my work.
“Mom. What the heck?”
“I cleaned your room.”
“Wow. Thanks. Why’d you do that?”
“Because I can. And I might do it again.”
And I did do it again. Not right away, but a couple of months later. I mentioned it to a couple of my mom friends who have already launched their firstborn and they agreed it was indeed a thing: cleaning your kid’s room as a way of hanging on for dear life to The Middle, before that swirling, fog-like beast called The End shows up at the door like The Grim Reaper wearing a university t-shirt and holding a case of Top Ramen.
What will I do when he goes away? Eighteen years ago it almost physically hurt to imagine that scenario. It still does, but I actually do know what I’m going to do. First, I’m going to miss him. I’ll miss hearing, “Mom. MOM. MAMA!” from downstairs, rapid fire, when he has an urgent question that I must drop everything to answer, something like, “Where’s the cat?” or “Hi.”
I’m going to miss the way he knows when I’m being over-dramatic about something that I’m trying my hardest to be pissed off about, and then mocks me until I laugh, then cuss and yell, then laugh, as I promise through clenched jaw that I am NOT JOKING. I try so hard to be mad, but I just can’t. All the while he’s scampering and sliding around the kitchen in his stocking feet, chasing me, and when he finally wins, and I’ve totally surrendered to the laughing, he slides away around the corner into his room. His work is done here. (And yet, when I truly am mad, usually at something else on my radar screen that’s entered my airspace without permission, I can stop him with a look.)
What will I do when he goes away? With three teenage girls, my job as a parent is far from over; I have a couple more years to continue raising myself while raising them.
Now the harder stuff: What will I do when he goes away? I’ll miss him. And I’ll enjoy how much I love him, even though he’s no longer in my arms, or even under my roof. The good news is that I still get to love him, whether he’s here with us or not. The love we have for our children is the gift that keeps on giving, even when they go away.