Around this time of year anxious parents flood the aisles of Bed Bath & Beyond, pushing blue shopping carts, with their bored high school graduates in tow. They peruse the mind-numbing selection of products intended to maximize storage capacity, minimize chill, and mimic home as much as possible in cramped, sterile dorm rooms. Moms sing a silent dirge: “Where did the time go?” while kids count the days until independence.
“Mom. I don’t care what color comforter. And yes. One hundred hangers is enough. Can we just go?”
“Ok, honey, I just want your room to be nice…”
Thus begins what parents both dread and desire, the proverbial emptying of the nest. But after all the preparation and packing, the lugging and hugging, and the teary goodbyes… they come back! For fall break. For Thanksgiving. For the holidays. And so on. And in between, we text, Skype, and FaceTime. While we may cook less, it feels like we actually spend more on food because we send them so much on Amazon. While we may get to see the occasional movie during the week, we seem to spend as much time monitoring and managing their academics, social life, and travel logistics as when they were home.
Little fledgling hatchlings may flutter and sputter on their own at first, but they don’t come back for months at a time and stay out late, make a mess in the kitchen, and expect their parents to resume laundry duty for four years.
My boys are 21 and 23. The eldest graduated from my Alma Mater last year, and has settled in Nashville to pursue a music career. The other will be a senior at his father’s Alma Mater in the fall.
Now at the precipice of another milestone – having both boys graduate college – I realize that this moment (notwithstanding the boomerang gang) is the real moment of truth.
While dropping the kids at college requires emotional and physical adjustments to the end of the hands-on childrearing days, those sharp, whirring helicopter rotors don’t quite sever the cord.
But once they move out to move on in life, parenting takes on a very different shape. Since my son moved, I’ve seen him three times. I text him frequently, but don’t always get a response. We talk less. I have a broad idea of what and how he’s doing, but I miss hearing about the minutiae of his life. When he left after a recent visit, I cried more than I did when we dropped him off for his freshman year. Then, I pretty much knew what he could expect and broadly what the next four years would hold for him, and I knew that we’d return in a month for Parents’ Weekend. This time, I know much less about his path for the next four years and beyond, and I have no idea when I’ll next see him.
While I saw my youngest, the budding photographer and filmmaker, over the summer, I know that this time next year I may be looking for cheap flights to visit him in Los Angeles.
My boys are adults, and their lives, as it should be, are their own now. While a part of me would love to live nearby and cook family dinner for them every Sunday (Wait. Who am I kidding? I don’t cook. I’d order in pizza every Sunday), I realize that now it’s really time for me to step aside and be their moon rather than their star. The college drop off was only a test flight. This is the real thing. The echo that reverberates around my quiet apartment is deafening compared to the chatter and chirping of the college years.