"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.