Something happened last year. Amidst the swirl of SAT testing, college acceptance letters, pole vaulting and ski racing, something huge changed in our house.
You turned 19, and you don’t live here anymore.
At first it was like peeling layers of an onion. I was so distracted by your brother’s broken leg, our flooded kitchen and the start of the school year that at first, it just seemed like you were off at camp, or spending way too much time at track practice. The house buzzed with construction workers, and your brother kept me occupied with his full leg cast and wheelchair antics.
A few weeks into the school year it started to get quiet- too quiet. And I began to realize the quietness wasn’t going away – you were. I realized that after eighteen years of watching over you, teaching you, and knowing the details of your everyday life, that you don’t live here anymore.
That hit me hard. Freshman year was easier to dismiss – it was a novelty. You were trying it out, and somehow I believed that things would get back to normal. Someday.
Now it’s year two. I tried to adjust to being your mom from a distance; I’m afraid I haven’t mastered it quite yet.This long distance relationship isn’t exactly what I imagined all those years I was mothering you, years I spent teaching you how to make french toast, or load the washing machine and old your clothes so they don’t wrinkle.
This year, we are into our second round; the new normal of you not living here is punctuated with holidays coming and going like the time change. As the calendar turned November, I began sprucing up your room, knowing that you’ll come back, crawl into your big black iron bed and pull the soft white duvet up for a few nights. I left pink lilies on your bedside table.
All month I told you to get ready to be spoiled – to send me special requests and remind me if you still take your coffee with cream and like to go for long walks right after breakfast.
And when your face rounded the corner at the airport, you had that familiar smile that told me it’s ok to hug you close, but to remember we were in public. To not make too big of a scene, but that you were happy to see me, too. Your blue eyes met mine, and I had to touch your face, just to make sure you were real.
Thank you for indulging me this Thanksgiving. I keep thinking that one day, you’ll understand the exquisite pain and pleasure of being a mom, and all my emotional antics will make sense. I hope that one day, when that thrill hits your heart when you see your baby living their life full of happiness and joy, you’ll understand why I have such trouble letting you go. When you see your child blossom into an adult, when you watch all the lessons you tried to teach unfold in front of you, I hope you understand why I tear up just thinking about you leaving again. It’s these ordinary moments, watching you hang the lights on the Christmas tree, or sip a latte at an outdoor cafe, when I realize how extraordinary you really have become. It’s these ordinary moments that I crave, that I miss, that I want to press into my memory like tiny handprints in cement.
So I have twelve more hours with you today, twelve more chances to soak you in. I’ll help you pack and make sure you’re well fed, chattering away about December plans and encourage you to work hard during finals. So much to do to try to make life as normal as I can before you’re back on the plane – because you’re nineteen, this is our ‘new’ normal, and you don’t live here anymore.