30 August, 2006

Reflections of the changes in life.

Of course, I knew it was going to happen. It happens every year. But I'm never really fully ready when it does.

Oh, I saw it coming. I noted the signs that it was on its way. But now the reality of it strikes; I'm overcome by it.

I used to privately scoff at people who reacted this way. After all, it's a part of life. Deal with it. And deal with it I will. But it doesn't make it anymore pleasant. It just shows me again how my own judgments about other people have come back to haunt me.

So what is "it"? My baby has left to return to college. Okay, "baby" isn't a very good word. He's 4 days short of 20 years old. He's 6'4" tall with a deep, masculine voice and a bright future, a 4.0 GPA taking honors courses at a private college, a girlfriend, and a great handle on the responsibilities and privileges of adult life. He's skilled at money management, time management, and personal relationships. My "baby" is well on his way to independence.

Yet the last weekend of August is always a dreaded time for me. He leaves and drives 8 hours to go to school, to live independently and separately. To lead his own life. I should be exuberant in all his success. I should bask in his achievements. And I am and do. But inside, I am torn -- ripped apart. The child who learned to walk, talk, and think within my care, the young man with whom I've shared so much in these years is rounding the corner from "my baby" to adult son, from one who needs me to one who choses when and how to relate to me. I'm not dealing well with this change -- maybe because it's more profound than the progression of changes that led up to this.

When he stepped onto a school bus for his first day of school, I was excited for him. He would experience learning in a new setting, with new people; he would make friends and his world would expand. He came home and shared his stories, his frustrations, his joys over a snack or the evening meal. When he learned to drive, I was relieved. I no longer would be a taxi driver and he could find some independence and experience a larger slice of the world. But he always told us where he was going and when he'd be back, and then he came home, ate dinner at the family table, and shared his excursions. When he stepped on a plane for a tour of Great Britain I was envious of him. He would see places I've dreamed of seeing. His world expanded beyond my own, but he would still be coming home. And he still called it home. He shared his stories, his photos, and his dreams to go to see the world.

The first year of college, he and I drove to the school in separate cars. He needed my help to find the place, and the space in my car for his belongings. As I left him in the dorm that evening -- my birthday and days from his 18th birthday -- the tears fell: mine and his. I sensed his unfamiliarity with the place, the people, the situation. I cried for him. And for myself. For the first time, the ties that had held us together for 18 years were being dissolved -- the dinner table, the long walks, the conversations. His world separated from mine. His life is his own. Tears fell over the separation and this difficult transition.

And now, two years and two August weekend separations later, those tears fall again. The void, the reality, and success of this cutting of the proverbial umbilical cord mingle in the salty flow from my eyes.

I treasure his companionship, our conversations over breakfast and dinner, our shopping excursions at Goodwill. I revel in his stories of learning to do a new thing, of achieving success with his coworkers, of finding his way to a new spot in town. I enjoy his company when we're reading the newspaper in the evenings, our long walks in the neighborhood after dark. And his humor, dry and sharp, lightens even my heaviest days. I do miss him when he leaves for school every year on the weekend of his and my birthdays, one set of milestones marking yet another.

Today his room is void of all thing things that make it "Andrew's room." The floor is empty. The closet door and desk drawers closed. Missing are the clothes in the laundry basket and the contents of his desk. Gone are the keys to his car. Gone is the young man I'm proud to call my son and my friend. Today the void is not just in that room. It is also in my own heart.

Maybe I'm just feeling my age. Maybe my changing hormonal balance affects me this way. Maybe it's the humidity or the phase of the moon. Whatever. The bottom line is still that I'll deal with it. His independence is the evidence of our parental success. His burgeoning self-reliance and autonomy are the desired outcome of procreation. My struggle to transition will be won with time. My tears will flow into rivers of joy. Someday. But for today, I think I'll just swim in them. A late August swim.