Today was the last day of the first semester of my oldest son's final year of high school.
He is a senior. He will be graduating in June. With flying colors. With all kinds of accomplishments under his belt. With all kinds of changes between that first day of freshman year when I dropped him off at high school, and he didn't know a single soul, to today. Not. A. Single. Soul. On that first day.
My mama heart ached for him that first day of freshman year. The quiet one, the one who was likely to sit alone silently at lunch observing the crowds of kids who were reconnecting from the area junior high schools he didn't attend, the quiet one who I left on the steps of that high school while I drove away with tears streaming down my face.
He wore a brave face those first few days, saying very little, as I tried to pummel him with questions. "Slow down," inside my head said. But those of you who know me, know that resisting saying what's on my mind is difficult. So I kept pummeling, and he kept remaining silent.
I still pummel all my kids with questions.
"How was your day?"
"What did you do today?"
"Do you have homework?"
And while I rarely get answers (you ask too many questions all at once, they claim), they too have their own set of questions: "What's for dinner tonight?" (Okay perhaps not a set, but a question nonetheless!)
It doesn't take much to make me cry these days.
I can literally close my eyes and remember pushing Carver out on the day he was born, 18 years and just a few months ago. I can still smell the top of his head. I can hear his sighing as he moves up onto my chest and settles in.
These are perhaps the greatest clichés of all: It will go by in the blink of an eye. He'll grow up so quickly. Before you know it, he will be off to college.
But I didn't believe them because of course it's not really a blink of an eye. After all on a day when your baby is three months old, and you are home alone with him, and he won't let you set him down for a moment, and you desperately need a shower, there is no time that moves slower than in that day before your husband arrives home to take him out of your arms so you can dash off to rinse the smell of spit up out of your own hair, and you can stand in the shower for just a moment alone and think, this, this is what alone feels like. And then that moment alone ends.
But here we are 18 years later and staring down at that final semester of high school.
There is not a single school within 150 miles that Carver has applied to. In fact, one of the colleges he applied to is 2,637 miles away. (Yes, of course, I google mapped it!)
When I think about him as a baby, as a three-year-old flying through the house in his Superman outfit, as an 11-year-old making videos with his best friend Will, last week when he dashed in from school to grab a sandwich and dash back out to work, my throat catches, and the tears well up in my eyes, and I find myself on the verge of a kind of grief I haven't experienced before.
This is no child dying grief; this is no parent dying grief (and god knows, I know those griefs with an intimacy all too well). No, this is a new kind of grief that hardly makes any sense at all because I want him to grow into an adult, of course. I want him to go off to college and grow into the person one can only become when off at college. I want him to experience all of the wonderful and terrifying and life-changing things that happen when you leave your home.
But dammit, I do not want him to leave us.
This is my grief.
Because, this now. This parenting thing, I've kind of finally gotten down after 18 years. I can do it pretty well now.
And the worst part of the grief?
I like him. I really, really like him.
I like the man my son is becoming, and I want to continue to experience him on a daily basis. I learn from him every day. I'm a better human being when I am around him.
And so I grieve. Pretty openly as those of you know who have found me accosting you as I walk past. Especially those parents who have gone before me, and I grab the sleeves of your shirts to tell you, "This is Carver's last year. He's going to leave us." And each of you give me the all-too-knowing look of kindness as I desperately search your eyes.
I have lumped people into two categories now:
1. Those who respond appropriately: "I'm not going to pretend with you. It's awful. I cried for the first month when my daughter left home."
"I'm so, so sorry. It is so hard."
2. And those who don't respond appropriately: "It will be great." "You'll love recapturing your life."
Go to hell, I want to tell those number twos. Fuck you.
I'm not looking for you to tell me how I'll feel two years from now. In fact, I'm not at all looking for you to tell me how to feel. I'm looking at you for a little bit of empathy, a little bit of I've been in your shoes, and it totally sucks and I'm sorry kind of empathy.
And don't tell me that my husband and I should have done a better job of being on our own without because we have consciously decided to be fully present for our kids and forgo the weekly date nights. (And this is not what the books say you are supposed to do, but I could give a fuck about those books.)
I will tell you that I have not, for one single moment, regretted not going on a date night or not going overnight with my husband instead of all of us being together. (And I'm pretty sure that my husband would say the same thing.) Because I think I've known this all along. I think from the very beginning, that I've known this truth.
That these years with our children, these 18 years and some months will be just a piece of our entire lives, this time will be just a quarter or a fifth (with any luck, God please!) of our lives, and then it will be over, and I will have the time to sit on the couch and pen these words as he steps out into the night.
"Goodbye, mom," he says, with confidence. "Can I take your car?"
And I sit here on the couch with the tears streaming down my face feeling the ever so sweet milky breath of his mouth as we lie on the couch napping so many years before when every moment of his life depends upon the ability of me to simply be present to make sure when his feet touch the ground to go running, that he is indeed firmly planted.
My grief. My tears. His best years of his life still ahead of him.