Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Steps Up to Goodbye

He told me that he had received his first email from a college. "Oh?," I replied, careful to keep my tone just right - interested, but not too interested. Meanwhile, my stomach clenched, taking on what my voice could not. In my head I calculated the realities: Nine months to college visits, SATS, preparations for the next big thing.  The first big thing?

"Yeah," he answered, while stuffing his mouth with cookies. "Not a college I care about, but anyway. Guess it's just the beginning." I nodded.

But it's not my beginning. His beginning will be an end for me. I understand now that there will be no soul-crushing, tear-stained goodbye on the day he leaves for college. Because the goodbyes are already happening, every day, even every hour. His father asks him to watch a movie with us. He considers for a moment before declining. "I need to work on my History paper," he says. "Sorry." My husband does not conceal his disappointment. "Aww, c'mon," he persists. "Watch the first 20 minutes, and then you can go if you don't like it." My kid laughs nervously, sensitive to his dad's pleading. "I'll watch one with you another time. Maybe tomorrow." And he turns away, goes upstairs to do whatever it is he does. He is becoming less and less real to us. He is nearly a ghost. He treads that lightly. The only time I recognize my boy is when he argues with his little brother, but even that he does with a certain degree of listlessness, as if he is using elephant's memory to play an old, ill-fitting part.

I see that these next two years will contain a thousand leave-takings, each a twinge on its own, the sum enough to make me gasp. Luckily I don't have to endure them all at once. It is kinder this way.

+++++++++++++++++++++

As a child he had a funny little wave. He would raise his hand and hold it high, motionless. On his first day of kindergarten I caught the wave on film. It reminded me of the Queen's wave. It spoke of confidence and serenity. He remains confident and serene. The things that bother me - oh, so many things that bother me! - do not even register in his world. I envy him his preternatural poise and unconcern. Both will serve him well.

He is the one who taught me how to parent, but also how much we tend to overestimate our role in who and what our children become. When I flash back to him at four years old sprawled on the floor surrounded by hundreds of Legos, the concentration and total immersion in the building of this vehicle or that house, I don't see someone very different from the sixteen-year-old before me. He has ironed out his own kinks - his obliviousness to what he wears, or how he appears before others - in his own time, and largely without my assistance.

He is near ready to go. No one can miss it. He's earned his learner's permit in adulthood. Not, however, in driving. He refuses to learn how to drive. So yes, maybe there are a few more kinks he needs to iron out. That's what these last two years are for. Meanwhile, I will endure one thousand small goodbyes proffered with a steady raised hand and a sympathetic smile so tiny anyone other than his parent would miss it.


11 comments:

Veronica said...

So true. We think the big goodbye is when they go off to college, but it really starts when they hit high school. I can go 24-36 hours without even catching a glimpse of my son at home. He's a senior--has a car, a job, a girlfriend. The job and the girlfriend are at the center of his world and our role and influence is diminished daily it seems. Just the way it is. I worry about him. I miss him, but if I'm absolutely honest, part of me is ready for him to move on and move out. This stage between adulthood and childhood is uncomfortable for both of us, as our roles are constantly changing and we can't seem to find our footing or peace of mind for long.

Emily said...

I read all you write with an eye to my future.

Amanda said...

A thousand leave-takings.

I am undone. Love this, you, your words, always.

Anonymous said...

"The only time I recognize my boy is when he argues with his little brother, but even that he does with a certain degree of listlessness, as if he is using elephant's memory to play an old, ill-fitting part."

You nailed this.

--Elizabeth D.

Mary Gilmour said...

Mine came back. We are now friends, I think genuinely. So, not 'good-bye' but rather 'au revoir'.
Beautifully written!

Liz said...

I love this piece, finding it both poignant and comforting. While driving a few days ago, I found myself reflecting on how my sons are starting Years 7 & 8 this month and had to pull over to the side of the road for a minute, as suddenly the end of our lovely, exhausting, nutty life together as a foursome felt so close that it took my breath away. A thousand goodbyes, indeed. I am reassured by the notion that many kinks (including dress!) may be ironed out over the next few years without my help...and amused that both our eldest are avowed non-drivers - will be fascinated to hear whether your first-born can be swayed on this any time soon. I look forward to more reports back from your advance party in parenting!

InTheFastLane said...

"A thousand small goodbyes" yes, yes I say, with tears in my eyes. My oldest is still doing this. My middelest....less than a year away from teaching a 2nd kid to drive but I feel exactly what you are saying. They are becoming their own people. Their attachment to us still there, but now invisible, and changed. I love your son's confidence and the way he quietly takes on life in front of him.

Patois42 said...

I want to believe that we need these many mini-farewells so we don't fall apart the last time they leave our threshold as a housemate.

Angeline Foong said...

This day will come for me too....and I am constantly reminding myself to treasure every tiny moment shared with my boys, before they reach the stage of I-want-to-be-on-my-own-and-less-time-with-parents...

Rainbow Motel said...

How well I remember this!!!! The last one is halfway through college and now the weekend goodbyes are still sad. Empty rooms...and silence.

Christine said...

Oh my heart. It breaks a little for you and the future me. You've done a good job with him, mama.