I really didn’t want to write about this–the emotion surrounding sending my kid off to college–since I wrote about it at length three years ago when I did it the first time, but I can’t help it. The fact is, I’m doing it again and I have returned to that state of mind. Under the circumstances, I feel an intense need for a cathartic release–again–especially because this time involves the added element of becoming an empty nester. Though I still carry a smile on my face and am truly, extremely happy, I have this inner shrieking and squirming that ebbs and flows underneath it all. The act of putting these emotions into words is supposed to make me feel better; what a coincidence that I have this blog and can do just that.
Earlier this summer I was sitting on the couch with J, watching television. Jim was out of town and I found my thoughts tumbling around in my brain faster than I could keep up with them.
“I’m so thankful to have time alone with J in his last summer home before heading off to college.”
“He is so funny…this kid is awesome.”
“He really seems to enjoy spending time with me. I’m so lucky.”
“Where did the time go?? I can’t believe he’s really leaving.”
It’s odd, raising a kid from birth all the way to eighteen. When they’re born, you have so many ideas and preconceived notions about what they will be like, who they will take after, what they will want to do when they get older. As they grow, you can act like you always knew that he would hate avocado or love electronic music or enjoy playing with (and then working on) cars or be good at math, but how could you, really? The truth is, when they’re babies you can make as many guesses as you want based on certain looks they give you or the way they cry or how easily they fall asleep at night, but in the end so many elements of their personalities are already set in place at birth and even if you discover that you guessed right on certain things, it’s only luck. I can’t say that I was right about any of the specific guesses I had about “J-as-an-adult” when he was born. And generally speaking? I certainly didn’t think in broad strokes more than hoping he would be a good person and productive member of society when he grew up, which he is. As I watch him and interact with him these days as the sun sets on this phase of his life, at home full-time with his dad and me, I am so impressed with the man he has become and I think to myself, “Jim and I helped create that, but J really finished the job on his own.” He is not perfect (none of us are), but I can’t imagine anything I’d change about him. The time I’ve been able to spend living in the moment with him recently (especially the alone time this summer) has truly been a gift. My son is a gift. I am so blessed, proud, and amazed he’s mine.
After that avalanche of thoughts, I got busy and stopped thinking about his actual act of leaving for college. Life went on as usual, all of us working, doing our own thing. As I became more and more attached to my laptop during the day due to work, I spent my lunch breaks and evenings starting to feel a “nesting” sensation, as in “When J leaves for college I desperately want to reorganize this house and clean out so much stuff that we don’t need anymore.” I started making plans for my pantry with the four pull-out shelves; as of this fall it will only have food on the top two and something else–cookie sheets? pans?–on the bottom two. I imagined my refrigerator to be sparkling clean with only a moderate amount of food inside–enough for only two people. I thought about how I wanted to transform D’s old room, across the hall from my own bedroom, into a Chicago-themed upstairs office for myself. No matter that where I prefer to work is snuggled up in the corner of my sectional couch downstairs in the family room: having an office would be very cool and I CAN DO THAT NOW. I had no problem talking about being an empty nester. Heck, I was looking forward to it! It’s what Jim and I talked about when we started our family, doing the math to figure out that we would still be in our mid-forties when our kids were both out on their own and OH MY GOSH we’ll travel and spend time together and really, just do what we want. We made sure all those years while we raised our boys to put our relationship first because we knew this day would come, when it would be just the two of us again, and thank goodness we did because we are happy to be with each other.
A couple of weeks ago, Jim asked me if I’d like to go away for the weekend after we move J into his dorm room. He said that it would be nice for us to get away, and that he was worried about me on move-in weekend. I laughed and said, “I’ll be FIIIINE. We have to go home to that empty house sometime! Really! But I’ll think about it.”
Then it occurred to me a couple of days later that he may have been suggesting the getaway because he’s also worried about himself and how he will handle our just having dropped off our younger son on the doorstep of his future. I decided to really think about it, for him.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of thinking time just then because I was so busy with crunch-time at work; I forgot about it, really. When I returned home from the conference last week and we all slid back into our routine it wasn’t at the top of my brain, either. Fast-forward to this past Friday night, Date Night.
Jim and I went out to dinner and spent the whole time talking (as we tend to do, thank goodness). As is typical, the conversation made its way back around to the boys, and we touched on J’s leaving–in just four weeks. When were we going to go out together and complete his “What to take to college” list? Are we going to go away that weekend or not? And then, Jim told me that he wanted to start talking in the next year or two about moving, not out of this area but into a different house. He said, “Because in four weeks it’s just going to be the two of us in a three-bedroom house with four floors (split level with basement).” I’m fine with moving, really, because we have more important things to do and more fun ways to spend our time than caring for the interior and exterior of a house that, while for the past thirteen years was just the perfect size, is suddenly too big for just us.
That said, his bringing it up caused my heart to suddenly feel like it was being squeezed, just like when someone in the cartoons squeezes a huge piece of coal with so much pressure it magically turns into a diamond and all of the emotion I had been unknowingly pushing down and to the side because I’ve been so busy this summer came up to the surface and out a little bit through my eyes. The realization–no matter how much I know it will be fine, how much I am truly looking forward to it, how much I know that this is the way it’s supposed to be–felt like it would knock me out of my chair if I didn’t hold on to the table’s edge.
And I truly believe it will be fine. I know I will continue to enjoy my life once our house only has two permanent residents. I don’t know this because my friends who have been in this place before me tell me so; I know it because I have lived my life in such a way–both as an individual woman and as one-half of a pretty amazing couple–knowing that it was all part of the Grand Plan. I don’t struggle with “four weeks from now”; I struggle with this, RIGHT NOW. Any transition that has to do with a major life milestone can be rocky, scary, anxiety-inducing, and upsetting, and for a person like me–a control freak who likes routine–it feels like an obstacle I can’t figure out how to get around at the moment even though I see where I will be when I finally do.
I will get around it, though. It’s only a matter of time.