I am so incredibly blessed. I have two sons and two daughters, and I have relished my role as mother even more than I thought possible.
My oldest daughter is twenty-five, and married with a baby of her own. She is the one who taught me about the three levels of separation.
First, she went off to college. Driving away without her felt like the hardest thing anyone should ever have to do.
Then, after her third year of college, she became too busy to come “home” for the summer. She took summer courses and worked near school. I cried as we planned a “family vacation” without her, for the first time.
And finally, that third level of separation—when she graduated from college and got her first real apartment, and I knew she’d never live with us again. That piercing mix of grief and joy... telling myself, she is exactly where she’s meant to be while concurrently thinking, how can I exist without her?
But I did exist. At first, that's all it seemed to be—existing. In time, I made her joy mine, and when that was too hard, I smiled through the tears.
My younger son finished his third year of college this month. He came home for about a week—most of which he spent with friends.
He has an internship, near his school, so for the first time, he’s not “off” for the summer.
He left last night.
Level two, achieved.
And at the same time, we have "level three" with my older son.
Last May, he graduated from college. He found a job about an hour from our house. For the last year, he's lived here with us—a brief reprieve for his father and me.
Every night, he called me as he left work, asking what was for dinner as he started his commute.
He bought a car of his own, and then saved money so he could get an apartment, closer to work.
He and his girlfriend have been looking at apartments since early April.
Last night, he slept in “his” room for the last time.
When I went downstairs to turn off the lights, last night, I moved through echoes of the day we moved into this house.
How can that be eighteen years ago?
My husband and me and three little kids, seven, five and three years old.
It was such a long day, with the whole move taking place in a cold November rain.
My daughter was so excited to have her own bathroom. (Of course, we didn’t know that was temporary, at the time. Her little sister wouldn’t come along for another year.)
My older son chose his bedroom because he liked the windows. I can still see his big dark eyes as he looked over the room that would be his and his alone.
My younger son was just thrilled to be sleeping in a big-boy bed for the first time.
Another wave of memories washed through eighteen years in this house. I relived all the times I tucked my little ones into bed . The bedtime stories. The tears. The irritation when they didn’t stay in their beds. The warm compassion I felt when one of them crawled into our bed after a bad dream.
This morning, my sons’ rooms feel very empty. While their unmade beds scream out that they were just there
such a short time ago, a million things have shifted in irrevocable ways. Long gone is the dinosaur wallpaper that lined each of their bedrooms—one trimmed in blue and the other in green. Bath toys and baby shampoo have been traded for deodorant and shaving cream. The smudges and hand prints have been washed away along with the laughter and cries of “MOM!” from the top of the stairs.
Today, I sift through it all, not yet able to smile through the tears. I know things are exactly right—that my kids are thriving in their lives. But, before I can really move into that reality, I have to allow myself to feel this moment, painful as it is. I can’t move on until I’ve thoroughly appreciated the masterpieces that have appeared on the canvases of my children’s lives—appeared despite a lot of mistakes… coaxed out with enough love to make up for all that was lacking.
And, I know my baby has only one year of high school left and will begin her journey away so very soon. And, I know I know the day will come when I will get used to the quieter house.
But not yet.
Grief and joy are two sides of the mom-penny, flipped high in the air the day I first found out I was going to be a mom. Ever since, I've had no choice but to shift with that twisting coin. As it turns, I will eventually come to comfort. I will learn to revel in the time I am allowed to share with my children, and in the unwavering knowing of how amazing they are.
But right now, I'm in the shadow of the underside of that coin. Right now, there is loss.
Every transition opens space for something else—I believe that—but I am excruciatingly aware of how hard it is, how empty it feels, when that space first appears.
And today, I miss my boys.
I just miss my sweet little boys.