My son turned 18 a few days ago. Nine years ago, I wrote about his birth here.
I’m trying to come to grips with the idea that he’s almost completely grown up. My darling little blond boy, my sidekick for those short preschool years, is eager to get his driver’s license and speed off into the sunset. Graduation will be here posthaste.
Why didn’t anyone warn me?
No one adequately prepared me for this stage of motherhood. His whole childhood has been a too-quick ski-lift up a mountain and the time has come to disembark and there’s really no other choice, but I still don’t want to leap. I don’t want to come to the top of the mountain at all. I don’t want to ski down. I don’t want him to ski away. Mostly, though, I just want to keep riding together, shoulder to shoulder, forever.
Or maybe we’re in a plane, one of those small planes that tend to crash so easily, the kind that climbs into the sky like a Ferris wheel except you go higher and higher, impossibly high, no longer tethered to the earth at all. And it’s time to jump out, to free-fall until the parachute opens and I’ve decided that it would be better if we just forgot about this whole thing. Let’s just land and go home and I’ll put on Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and we’ll eat “fishy crackers” and take a nap with his favorite blanket, the one decorated with Peter Rabbit. We can paint with Prang watercolors and roll Play-doh snakes and play Yoshi video-games.
College, shmollege. Who needs it? Stop growing up. Stop.
But I remember being 18. I remember the eagerness to go, the terror mixed with longing, the determination to find my life, somewhere out there, away from my lavender bedroom and my suburb and my family. I was resolute and only got teary when I looked through the Greyhound bus window and saw my reserved father blinking back shocking tears. He was crying? What in the world?
I rode that bus for three days and nights to get to college and it never occurred to me to call my dad and let him know I was all right. I didn’t even call him after I arrived at my dorm. He had to track me down. What was I thinking?
I had left my childhood behind and with it, my dad. I had absolutely not a single regret. I did not look back. Not once.
That fall, I began to understand how much he missed me after I received the only letter he ever wrote me.
Now, thirty-three years later, I get it. Finally, I understand with my heart.
My dad wrote that he cried a “river of tears” that night after the bus drove away.
Love mixes with pride and wonder and reluctance and regret, but no matter what, you have to just let go. You have to let your child climb into a possibly unseaworthy vessel and sail away on your ocean of tears and hope that the current will bring him back one day.
And it’s best if you keep your schmaltz to yourself and try to stop shouting out, “No please don’t go — we’ll eat you up — we love you so!” and then start sniffling because why, oh why didn’t you read more picture books to your baby boy when you had the chance?