This weekend my older son moved out of our house and into a basement apartment in town.
Now he’ll be close enough to school — he starts classes tomorrow — that he can walk or bike, which means he won’t waste time and gas driving back and forth to town and can take full advantage of campus life. Though I’m not sure how much time he actually have for extracurricular fun and games: rumors are the nursing program is intense.
The people renting the room to him — friends that we met when I was eight months pregnant with our son — gave our son the freedom to do anything to his room as long as it was an improvement, so the weekend was spent getting him set up.
My husband and I helped him clear the room out. My son, with the help of a couple of the kids, painted it. My husband and I went shopping with him for a rug remnant cover the tile floor and to lighten and cozify the room. We gave permission (in certain cases, begrudgingly) for him to make off with bits and pieces of furniture from our house: lamps, mattress, bedding, twinkle lights, a chair, etc.
And now the room’s all set up and lovely!
“Are you sad I’m moving out?”
“Not exactly sad,” I said, slowly stirring the white sauce for the macaroni and cheese. “More” — I paused, searching for the right word — “more verklempt.”
“Verklempt! What’s that?” and, without waiting for a response, my son pulled out his phone and googled it. “Overcome with emotion? Unable to talk?”
“No, no, not that. I thought verklempt meant sad, but in a happy sort of way. Melancholy, maybe.”
Because this is good, his moving out, studying, getting a job, working. I wouldn’t want him not to move out, right? But still….
“I’m excited about your adventures,” I explained, “it’s just, I’m going to miss hearing about them all the time.”
It’s almost cruel: just when kids grow up enough to be interesting, they leave.
It used to be that when the kids were little, I was constantly bored and overwhelmed and frazzled. Forever in search of meaningful projects and conversation, I seized every opportunity to escape.
But now, it’s flipped. The older the children get, and the more they strike out in search of their projects and work and relationships, the more I feel a pressing need — correction: desire — to be present. Now’s when I need to be available, to listen and support and coach.
The coaching (read: lecturing) is intense — one child recently asked me why I didn’t pursue a career that required me to lecture full-time; she wasn’t even being sarcastic — and oddly enough, much of the things I enjoy (the movies, games, Ultimate, conversation, food) now involves and includes my children. Being with them is often (but not always) both fun and satisfying.
In other words, I’m experiencing a complete reversal of the early years with them.
What a pleasant surprise.
I was recently telling some friends about this shift, kind of puzzling over it because most of the people I know do the opposite — stay home and then return to work when their kids reach their teens — but my friend said that she had a friend who worked out of the home when her kids were little but, once they hit middle school, she quit her job and stayed home because the middle and high school years were when she felt most needed.
So I guess maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way?
Sunday night, after our family night movie, he loaded the last of his stuff into the car, I gave him a candle (because candles make a place home) and, laughing, we hugged good-bye.
We’ll still see lots of him, of course — he was back the next day to do some chores, eat lunch, and have coffee, and he’s called a number of times to fill us in on his adventure stories, and there have been texts and emails (You got any ideas for some non-time-consuming meals I could cook…?) — but it’s different. We no longer have four kids in the house.
The balance is shifting.
In recent months when I’d come downstairs in the morning, my son would often be slumped in the soft swivel chair by the bookcase, or maybe curled up on the end of the sofa in front of the fire, carefully cradling a cup of coffee in his hands. There’d be nothing to occupy him — no phone, no book, no nothing — just the slow, steady, meditative slurping of his coffee. Sometimes he’d take so long to drink it that he’d have to reheat the mug partway through.
My husband and I teased him that he’s a stodgy old man already, methodical and routine rigid, but truth is, both my husband and I were quite fond of our coffee-drinking mornings. In that seam between night and day, the gray, early-morning light filtering through the windows, the three of us would chat and tell stories and bicker and make plans. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure was special, and I’m going to miss those moments.
I’m going to miss him.
This same time, years previous: high-stakes hiking, Christmas cheese, marching, high on the hog, 5-grain porridge with apples, breaking the fruitcake barrier, when cars dance, headless chickens, cranberry sauce, baguettes.