We dropped Oldest Son at college last week, our first to leave home. As we packed the car early Sunday morning, a young couple entertaining a toddler on their front steps watched our separation unfold. A perfect moment for me to witness the startling truth of how swiftly 18 years can fly by. I could show them pictures.
And explain how it happens in no time at all.
But they wouldn’t believe me.
As we packed the car, I was able to maintain my composure, having unevenly confronted the idea of his departure earlier in the summer. Packing lists and trips to Target had distracted me from regret. Occasional loggerheads reminded me it was indeed time for him to paddle his own canoe. (God invented teenagers for a reason). Nevertheless, I knew our lives were about to change forever. Bags were stowed, bicycle tied on top, and the last items crossed off the list. I was okay. And might have made it, except he unexpectedly stooped to say goodbye to the family dog. I immediately reached for my sunglasses. And put them on. In the house. I did not stick around as he woke his sleeping brothers, his best friends in the world, to say goodbye.
The couple with the toddler went inside.
I sat in the backseat where I could privately regain composure, wiping tears with my hands. It occurred to me that the connection a mother feels to a child is not the warm fuzzy thing you normally think of as love, but more like a vital function. From the minute he had a heartbeat, I was joined to this child for better or worse. Separating now was like having a vital organ ripped out of me. While I sat in the backseat facing a future without lungs or kidneys, husband and son talked about bicycle locks and Rangers’ end of season prospects.
At the university, we hauled his belongings up three flights of stairs (we are a freshman) and admired the private bathroom. We met the roommate, plugged in the refrigerator, and picked up textbooks. Undergraduate life is so cool. I offered to trade places, but by then my son was whistling a happy tune and making plans for the evening.
I hugged him and watched him walk away (with my lung) until I couldn’t see him anymore.
On the long ride home, Husband and I discovered an unexpected sense of accomplishment. Not about the 18 years of parenting, but the enormous transition to college. From application deadlines to extra-long sheets, it came together in the end. I confess; we did a happy dance. And I learned that I will survive, even though some of my vital organs are now living in another part of the state.
It is a really good thing I have three more of these Birds still living in the nest.