It’s November, which means I’ve done it, I am doing it: surviving my first Autumn with my oldest son away at college.
I know you are thinking: What’s the big deal? And you know, I am completely aware that it shouldn’t be.
It should be a celebration: we have an extra bed in the house, a lot more food and no one playing Xbox at 1 am. But it makes me think of all the other things I know.
Like, how it felt to get pregnant right after a miscarriage and a few months later hear the doctor can say “Wow, this kid’s got a big head, are you doing your Kegels?” And practice them at stop lights.
How it felt to discover I was having a boy, coming from a family of women.
How I began seeing myself as a wise, pregnant-aware sage, preparing for the inevitable, knowing that my boy was going to grow up, get married and spend holidays with his wife’s relatives. Because that’s how it always works in my family.
How blissful it felt to have my 9 month old- 3 year old, 5 year old-son reach out to be held, lay his head on my shoulder and fall asleep playing with my hair.
How hard it was to hear my 15 year old son say: “Just stay in the car, I’ll come find you- DON’T come onto the field,” as he bolted for lacrosse practice. How I sat there in the car searching for tissues in the glove box and finding only maps from the pre-GPS dark ages, and a three year old Wet-Nap.
I know how shock resonates. How it began with his 16th birthday, walking out of his bedroom each morning in a cloud of Axe Body Spray, noticeably taller. I know about ordering sneakers from the Nike factory in China because no store stocks a size 14. How it felt to realize I was living in a household of not boys, but MEN and was totally inept.
To whom will I pass down my Julia Child impersonation? My liquid eyeliner application skills?
I know how it felt to send my husband into the boy’s bedroom to give him the REAL TALK, not the pseudo-talk I gave him when he was 6, the one that when I was finished espousing bee pollination, he immediately asked to watch Scooby-Doo.
How it felt, this time- when my husband came out of our teenage boy’s bedroom an hour later relating: “Well, I told him everything.” And I’d said, “What do you mean?” Only to hear, “Well, the whole deal- you know, everything sex related like oral and anal…”
I know how it feels to realize nothing will be the same, life is careening out of control, that there is no more Thomas the Train, no more Lion King no more snuggling with Goodnight Moon that culminated in a primal scream from my uterus, vibrating my Fallopian tubes:
“WHAT??! Are you crazy?”
And hear: “You told me to tell him everything..”
Followed immediately by my husband pouring himself a glass of whiskey.
I know how it felt to have my 16 year old avoid my eyes for a month because he thought his mother was a sexual deviant, and not just the woman in the mini van crying into a dried up Wet-Nap.
I know how it was to be home alone with my seventeen year old son on a Sunday afternoon, and have him announce that he was making me dinner. How we ate while watching PBS and he didn’t complain, but laughed during Doc Martin. How touching and quietly tragic it was for me to be handed a Warm Brownie in a Mug that he’d learned in Foods class. How eating cold ice cream and hot brownie mirrored my emotions.
I know how it was to watch the boy I reminded every day to be punctual, responsible, kind, and disciplined, walk across a stage and receive his high school diploma on a blue skied, high UV alert, June day- just a few months ago. How it felt to know he was so happy to be leaving us soon.
I know how it felt, relaxing into my Adirondack chair in the backyard after the graduation party, everyone gone- but the experience not finished. Chinese paper lanterns swinging on the dogwoods behind me, finally having a piece of cake, because it was supposed to be a celebration and felt more like someone died.
Then, how it felt to deliver our boy to college. Ready to learn, to party, to grow, to become. How unready his father and I were.
How it felt for a couple weeks, things quiet at home, until my cell phone became very busy. Text messages, not daily- no, but very often and sometimes with 11pm phone calls, catching up and ending with something unexpected.
“I love you, Mom.”
Yes, this is how it feels.