One by one they leave

741px-Pied_Piper2 The kids are leaving. The college kids, that is. Every time I see a friend with a child my son’s age, a recent high school graduate, we greet each other with the same set of questions. Is he gone? Has she left? When is he going? How are you doing?

Even though I have younger kids, and I am tripping over their friends in the house after school and meeting new parents at back to school nights and soccer practices, it feels like the town is getting emptier by the moment, like some Pied Piper is coming during the night and leading our children away. “I took her last Thursday.” “He leaves on Sunday.” “We just got back yesterday from dropping her off.” The Facebook status updates echo these conversations: “She’s gone.” “He left.” “We moved her in.”

I talked to my mother on the phone last week, and for the first time since she put me on a plane to college 34 years ago, she hinted at what it was like. “It’s much harder for the parent than the child,” she said. “It’s just….hard.”

A mother who has done it three times—and now has a completely empty nest—told me to call her if I needed support; that it is a big deal, but that I would get through it. This particular mother understood something that many of my friends don’t—that I can’t soothe myself, as they do, with the idea that my son will be back next summer. All summer. Many of their children will indeed come back, settling into their rooms like they’d never left. But I’m not kidding myself, comforting as that might be. It’s not likely that my son will ever really live at home again, will completely unpack his suitcase. Oh, he’ll come for visits of a week or two, but summers, he’ll be looking to live and work somewhere different, perhaps not even on this continent. He’s going to college on a one-way ticket; from now on, his round trips will be anchored somewhere else.

Of course, I want him to have adventures, I want him to take advantage of his college summers, to go where his passions take him—but the thought that he will never really live with me again brings tears to my eyes. (And yes, I did the same thing to my mother.)

Mostly, I hide the wet eyes. I focus on the to-do list; getting him boxes to pack, making sure he has copies of medical documents, paying that first bill. I’m not taking him to campus on move-in day—it’s just too far, and I’m not sure going would make it any easier. But since I won’t be able to run out to the local CVS to get him shampoo and laundry soap and other things I think he needs, I’m getting him ready in my own way. I’m just about done with the blanket I’ve been knitting since February or so, I’ll give it to him the day before he leaves. I’m obsessed with putting together the perfect emergency medical kit, as if a little box with bandaids and a thermometer and ibuprofen will be able keep him safe. I’m also looking at new cell phones for myself—I think if I want to hear from him regularly I’d better get a phone on which it’s easier to text.

I’m also forcing myself to let go of little annoyances; when I have to nag him about something, I don’t stay irritated, it wastes precious time (how come it took me so long to figure that out?)

Of course, the one thing I really want to do is just impossible—to put off that one-way flight just a little bit longer.

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