we never forget when it was full
I said something for the first time today.
In pursuit of a pen, I reached into the junk drawer (grumbled about cleaning it out) and picked up a mechanical pencil with no top, wrapped in tape, and the cylinder was empty. Harper, our 8-year-old neighbor was over and said, “Why does the pencil look like that?” I held up the plastic pencil remains fiddling with them in my hands and said, “Well, when my son lived here, he would recycle these and use them for projects he would build.”
Whoa…Past tense. “…when my son lived here …” I heard it.
Then I felt it. My heart did that sinking thing when it secretly knows the past is, well, past…and life within the walls of our home will never be the same.
That was then…
I thought back to when the kids were little. We’d set up obstacle courses in the backyard with logs to balance on, hula hoops to maneuver through, and barriers to tackle. My husband managed the stopwatch narrating along the way, and I held the video camera–because in my mind documenting meant the moment wouldn’t (couldn’t) go away.
Our oldest son would go first, his eyes planning the most efficient, logical, and fastest path, no ladder too tall, no tunnel too narrow, no risk too great. Our youngest son would follow, arms flailing, adding cartwheels, leaps, and spins along his path to ensure the most fun could be had on the journey. Finally, our daughter, the oldest, would lean out of the screen door, Harry Potter book in hand “What’s the fastest time?” she’d ask while slipping on any shoes that were handy and pushing her curls away from her face with the back of her hand the way she does. She’d quickly survey the course, hustle to the starting line next to her brothers and yell, “READY Papa!” Up, over, in, and out, she dashed through the course with her signature audible breathing making it clear she was working to win. Once she held the new record, the screen door closed with a bang, book, glasses, and our current winner once inside again. The boys would then clamor to surpass her time and the cycle continued.
I play the kids’ childhood moments in my mind’s Viewfinder all the time–clicking through the first days of school, family trips, awards won, races lost. I think about who leaves toothpaste in the sink, who can tolerate “all that crunching” and who will empty the top rack of the dishwasher. One common thread – as if running the backyard course, they have all become unstoppable-each blazing their own trail, no matter the obstacles.
This is now…
We had our kids 15 and 18 months apart. Total 3. So…in the last two years, we’ve had two high school graduates and in 2024, our youngest will flip his tassel as we say farewell to all of the high school pomp and circumstance.
And as quickly as they graced our every, single day for 18 years, off they go.
As our first two started their journeys outside the context of our family, it was beyond hard. But all I could picture was our unstoppable daughter out in the world discussing the current issues and immigration policies with peers, laughing heartily at her friends’ jokes, and making Spotify song lists with her new people.
She is right where she needs to be. But boy do I miss her.
Then our oldest son who always came out to greet us, carry in the groceries, and asked SO MANY “Can I?” questions – the stamina of a cheetah, he never tired of hearing, “No.” He’s the guy to call when the car won’t start, the path needs clearing or the couch won’t fit through the awkward doorway. He follows Mark Twain’s words, “ I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
He too is right where he needs to be. But boy do I miss him too.
Our youngest is our mainstay. The traditionalist. He knows where the holes are in the wall to hang the birthday banner draping the kitchen window five times a year, where the angel food cake pan is kept (and how to use it), and is always clad in workout clothes as if a “sporting” emergency could spring up anytime, he’s the kid that will be there on your happiest or loneliest day and come loaded with snacks and goofy jokes.
Soon he’ll pack up and our nest will be very empty.
Boy, I’m going to miss that nest.
I recently read an article about a killer whale mother who, instead of having more offspring, decided to take care of her one son for over twenty years. Male orcas are massive, not as nimble as their moms, and require a lot of food. This particular orca mom would typically dive down for salmon, bring one up and split it with her son. Once the male relies on his mom to supply him with the extra food, his dependency becomes too great to survive on his own. Therefore, in these situations, it is said when an orca mother dies, her son will also die within the next couple of years.
This story resonated with me as I thought about how much I would love for our kids to all be here, at home, together again. Playing outside, laughing, competing, and crushing obstacles. Sure, I’ve done my share of enabling by bringing the forgotten saxophone or “co-writing” an essay or two, but I’ll be damned if these kids aren’t ready for this one shot at life. Therefore, unlike the mother orca, I am NOT splitting my salmon with them anymore, I don’t care how much protein it has!
What I’ve learned:
Back in August, when packing up the kids for college, I stopped and really listened to the sounds of our morning. I held onto them with clenched fists because somehow through the cacophony of yells and stomps, blenders and constantly running water came the harmony of our home. But eventually, even the best of bands have artists who seek standalone stardom. Simon split from Garfunkel and still performs today with a little less hair and a lot of notoriety. So as they should, our family paths have split. I struggle to marvel at the space between us because letting go is really, really hard. Thankfully we have our stories, love, and of course, Facetime.
Thanks for joining me,
“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”
― Ann Landers