It was about 8:00 in the evening, and my contractions had really started to holler. My husband and I got in the car and he drove me through the park to the hospital, with the windows open. I remember screaming into the soft, summer trees as we drove past, the pain was so extraordinary.
At 6:44 the next morning, after a night of contractions and challenges, our son was born by c-section. Because his heart rate had dropped during my labor, he was whisked away to the NICU before I could hold him. My mother arrived while I was still in recovery and came barreling into the room and held me tight. All I wanted to know was that my baby was ok (he was) and that we would be reunited soon (we were.) He went home on the hottest day of the year half swaddled in the bunting she had lovingly chosen for him.
He was a challenging baby. Didn’t nurse easily, didn’t reach any of his milestones on time. We worried a lot. But eventually, he reached them all. Including the doozy of all milestones - his departure for college.
We just dropped that baby off at his freshman college dorm.
It really does go by in the blink of an eye. I can remember – viscerally – the torture of being up with my newborn every night for two months, as he found the hours of 1:00 – 5:00 am to be the best for playtime. Sitting on our porch swing, waiting for the newspaper to be delivered. He would finally go back to sleep for a couple of hours and I would doze until he woke. The memory of the physical pain from getting through those two months with no sleep and taking care of a newborn will never leave me.
I ran into the wonderful director of his wonderful pre-school the day before we hit the road for college. It was an omen of grace and goodness, as I would have kept all three of my kids in her charge for their entire school careers if I could. She wished me luck, and we reminisced about how she used to go into the classrooms with a Polaroid camera on the first day of school to bring a snapshot to the parents who were waiting upstairs in the “Tea and Sympathy” room. She told me she never took a picture of a child crying. My child was merely curled up in a fetal position in the corner. We still have that picture.
We shared meals with long-time friends throughout this past week, some who have known my son since he was born. They commented how nice it is to have him as their own friend now. I know what an honor that is, as I feel the same way about the college-aged children of many of my friends. I enjoyed sharing him right before he left.
I remember his short sports career. He never really wanted to join any teams, but did play soccer for a few years and baseball for a season. He even made an outfield catch. As it turns out, he much prefers watching sports, and wants to make his career in the business of sports. I wish I hadn’t felt like I was failing as a parent when I couldn’t get him to a soccer practice when he was 8 years old.
I remember the time that I went off the deep end, for some petty reason, and yelled like a madwoman at my three little kids, terrifying the two younger ones. And how he, all of 11 years old, wisely told me that, while they might not have been doing everything right, I was doing everything wrong. I never again yelled like that, and never will.
I remember his bar mitzvah, and practically needing to push him out of a moving car to go to Hebrew school. He needed to do something non-traditional, and thankfully, our synagogue and his tutor were able to support and feed that need. We’ll never forget his rendition of the trope on his trumpet, blaring into the sanctuary and telling a story his own way.
He is now taller than both me and his dad. He is lanky and handsome, with a cute grin and a good sense of humor. He knows how to talk with adults, and play with kids. His brother adores him and misses him already (which is kind of breaking my heart.) His sister thinks he’s a little ridiculous but also kind of cool. She’s happy to be taking over as queen of the roost.
Nothing in my life has prepared me for his departure.
I was the oldest child, so I got to leave first, and leave my sister, bereft, behind. I got to go to college, move out, and fling myself into the world with nary a care about what I was leaving in my wake.
And now I am the one being left behind.
I am sitting here in my house, the first day at home with my son away at school, and I keep waiting for him to walk in the door, ignore me, mumble an answer to whatever inane question I fling at him, and run up to his room and close his door.
I am waiting for him to ask me for money for a haircut. Or to help him with an essay. Or to ignore me altogether, which was mostly his wont.
His younger brother keeps wondering what he’s doing, and announced today that he’s planning to change his room décor so that his beloved Washington Nationals, which currently grace every square inch of his walls, will make room for posters and paraphrenalia with the mascot of his brother’s school as well. Thankfully I had already predicted this, and got him a t-shirt from the school store before we left so that he could proudly wear his brother’s team all the time.
Life goes on. His sister is starting high school and trying out for a team sport. His brother is moving on in middle school. I am now working full time, and our lives will continue to be filled with chaos and excitement and boredom and routine.
But everything has changed. The dynamic will never be the same. He will never come home and fully live here again (at least we hope not.) He will always be getting ready to leave – to go back to school, to take a trip, to start a job and find an apartment.
Our family will always be our family. But it is taking a different shape and will function in a different way from now on.
As we dropped him off at his dorm, I kept thinking “how did I get to be the dorky, 50-year-old parent who doesn’t know when to leave?” That was supposed to be my own parents, and I was supposed to be the one leaving for the life adventure.
But I’ve lived that adventure. I have to be ready for different adventures. I have to get ready to let each of them go in time.
My neighbor, who is a photographer, took a beautiful picture of us when we came home from the hospital two days after our son was born. This week, she set her alarm and came out to make sure to take a bookend picture the morning we set off to drive him to school. I was blotchy and red-faced, crying not so much because of his departure, but because of her kind gesture and the way it reckoned the 18 years from one picture to another.
Sunrise, sunset. Quickly fly the years.
photo by jay8085 via flickr