Yesterday I dropped my nineteen year old son off at the airport, wrapped my arms around his no-longer-a-boy- body and said goodbye. Tonight I will do the same with my nearly seventeen year old. He will have his head phones on and his back pack on one shoulder and he will be fine. I never thought I would pine for the days when he used to make of himself a human anvil and attach himself to my lower leg and keep me from dropping him off at Temple pre-school.
Sixteen years later, my son who stands several inches over me with a cute five-o’clock shadow and broad shoulders and feet that look like they belong to a giant, is now perfectly content to give me a gracious hug and a thank you for a great week and make his way toward the plane that will carry him miles away. Now, I am the one who wants to wrap myself around his leg and wail at the top of my lungs “Don’t leave me!”
Of course, I won’t do that.
Instead I will stand there and watch him until I can no longer see him and will try and brace myself for that undeniable pang that rises up within me every time I have to say goodbye to my children now. Somehow the pang reads more significant than ever. I find myself more nostalgic when I watch parents stroll their toddlers around the city or wipe their faces during meals when I seem to have more idle time than I may have ever had in my life.
A week before they arrived here I must have said a hundred times, “Wait until the boys are here! They will love this!” I said that about the days I spent on the lake, or walking downtown in this new city, or eating the best taco of my life. “Wait until the boys are here!” I would say to my husband and my friends and their younger brother who waited eagerly for them to barrel into the house the way they do. I couldn’t wait to share my days with them.
And when they arrived their man/boy energy filled our home with a largeness that had less to do with their size and more to do with their charisma and place in their lives. They were funny and animated and were the best company even when I still had to remind them to flush the toilet or pick up their wet towels. My house had that boy-smell and there was never enough food and they slept past eleven and they left their dirty socks everywhere and I was giddy and more alive than I had been at the chance to be their every day mom again. Saying goodbye to them now hurts more because I am also saying goodbye to this role more and more in their lives. I think about my own mom, who is turning 75 and in the twenty plus years she has lived without all of her children under her roof, I wonder if she still gets those same pangs when my brothers and I put on our shoes and pick up our things and walk to her front door. Does it still ache when we hug goodbye and get on with our respective lives, no longer living with parents nor needing them in the ways we used to?
My sons’ step-mom said something to me years ago. She said, “We raise our children to leave us.” At the time, my children were still young and demanding in the ways young children can be and I remember smiling and saying, “I can’t wait!” While I am writing this, my son is in his room on the phone. I can hear his deep voice from where I sit. I look at the clock. In two hours I will be dropping him off and saying the goodbye I have been dreading for days. I can already feel the pang. I try to grab onto the feeling of him being in the next room and ward off the sinking feeling I know will possess me when I return home to a much quieter (albeit cleaner) house later tonight. Perhaps to ease this ache which seems to announce itself every time my boys walk in and out of my daily life, I can say with a kind of disbelief, I did that. I played a big part in making it possible for my son to turn around and with an easy going smile on his face say, “See you soon, mom. I love you.”