My baby is leaving for college in four days. I wish I could write one of those meaningful slice of life pieces you find in the NYT with a message, deep meaning, that brings tears and a sense of, “Oh, my God, that’s exactly me!” Tonight I can only tell you how I’m feeling right now and why I can be so pissed off and so grateful at the same time.
I had been doing just fine, thank you. I didn’t cry when he went to Kindergarten, graduated from middle school, had his first kiss, got his driver’s license, not even at his high school graduation. In fact, the only milestone that brought tears was when I found out he actually got IN to a college-tears of relief that he WOULDN'T be staying home next year.
He’s a quiet kid. A good kid. Half the time, if I don’t ask, I don’t even know if he’s home or not. No trouble. No complaints. Very smart, helpful, kind, quietly funny and somewhat sarcastic. No betrayal of emotion almost ever. Of course I know him better than he knows himself, so that helps me from wringing his neck trying to get a reaction of any kind out of the kid. I know it's in there. Eighty percent of his vocabulary is “fine,” “I don’t know,” “I guess,” “I don’t care” and “ok.” Easy, reliable, dependable, comfortable--a favorite tee shirt, a good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a well read copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Well, today that tee ripped, the sandwich got wet, the book’s binding cracked and all the pages scattered! He came home, grabbed some leftovers out of the fridge and sat at the kitchen table where I was working. “I don’t think I’m ready to do this. I don’t think I really thought about it, leaving my old life, my friends, Riley. What if it never gets better? What if I don’t find people like me who like the same things? What if I never find a girlfriend I feel the same about? I think I took high school for granted.” And it went on. And on. I listened and I responded. He never once got irritated with my responses and I think he really heard me. I think he was thirsty for some kind of connection, guidance and understanding. He overflowed with emotion, and just needed to talk. And he needed to be heard as much as he needed to hear himself. He is so protective of his emotional barometer that I don’t think he had even let himself know where it was until recently. Of course there is no solution here, it’s all part of the journey, all so hard, but also very normal. However, opening up in order to receive support along the way is key to a successful odyssey.
So you have probably gathered why I am so grateful. What a gift to get such a meaningful conversation with this 18-year-old man. It’s even more of a gift that he wanted my reaction and input and chose to reveal to me such a protected piece of his real self. Truly, one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
So why am I PISSED???! Oh, darling, if you had just kept this all to yourself a few more days I would have been able to fool myself and everyone else into thinking that I was just fine-a little sad, but a-ok and moving on, happy for you, looking forward to parents’ weekend and excited about my new found freedom. In other words, I’d have been able to hold tight to the image. Now I have to admit to myself what I will actually be losing in my day to day life when this amazing person moves on to the next phase. Kind of like losing an arm. I’ll survive but I will never ever be the same. And it will hurt like a motherfucker. And I'm just now on the far side of the Divorce Grief Chasm, can I face that canyon again?? I’m not the first, I won’t be the last, and just maybe this will open some new doors for mom as well. Plus, I have no choice but to forge straight ahead. It's the only way to get to the other side.