Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Packing List

I stare at the list, which is absurdly long. I did not bring half of these items when I started college. Is the list ridiculous, or sensible? I don't know the right person to ask, and anyway, I would feel embarrassed requesting assistance in figuring out something so trivial. I have worried the page by creasing it back and forth: folding it down, unfolding it, folding it down again.

All I know is that I do not want to do this. By this I mean think about what to buy and how to help my son pack for college. Or maybe I mean let my son go. I liked how things were at our house. I enjoyed parenting two teenagers. I know!


I've been thinking about what makes a good life. Is it doing no harm, or it is more than that? Is it sharing the best part of yourself with other people so that you can leave the world a bit better than it was when you arrived on the scene? With the graduation of my older child from high school has come, daily, the panicky breathless feeling that accompanies your stomach dropping out when you are surprised by a quick descent on a roller coaster, or on a plane. The loss of an identity that has shouldered the past eighteen years. (Yes, I know I have another child. Truly, I have not forgotten him.)

Perhaps more than others I have needed this identity, because for the longest time my life's ambition was to reverse my own childhood, to make it right, as it were, by showing myself that despite not being properly parented I could be a proper parent. Despite.

Being faced with the slow leak of the role that may have saved my life has left me unmoored, at the very least, and, yes, sad. No matter how much I want my son to fly away on sure and steady wings, I cannot deny this profound sadness its space. Nor can I deny the insistent whisper at my ear: "What next?"


The anxiety around the packing list is only a mask for the real question, that "What next?" My son will start college, and if we have forgotten something, I'm quite sure that he will let us know. As we live two or three miles from his freshman dorm, it will be no hardship to get him whatever we missed on move-in day.

But still I sit, folding this paper, making it smaller and smaller, willing it to disappear.


Mary Gilmour said...

If you really think that because Elder Son is now in collage you will not be parenting, I have to break it to you that you are quite wrong. I have probably done more parenting since my chicks left the nest than I have when they were just out of the egg. Spent most of yesterday at it in fact. Will be grandparenting from Thursday in two official languages (need to look up the words for poisonous plant ASAP).

Oh Sarah, I do hear you. I was quite panicked by the thought of them growing up and leaving me with a new focus and life style to find. The question of who you are when you are not a mother first any more is a fraught one. I found my niche volunteering in my community and supporting elderly aunts (talk about parenting! Try niecing.)

I hope you will find more time to let your beautiful voice be heard, for one thing. And there will be many more things, in between helping them move a room full of books, running their errands, listening to their stories, watching them jump out of an airplane or go through a miserable divorce, painting baseboards or whatever, and, and, and ad infinitum. I think you will find that Mother morphs into Friend. Or that is what has been so very rewarding for me.

Mary Gilmour said...

College. Damn spell correct.