One More Milestone
I’ve lived 46 years, 8 months and 6 days as I write this. I’ve had quite a few milestones so far, some so magnificent I thought I’d burst and some so mournful I thought I’d crumble. My most recent milestone was both. My 16-year-old son, an extraordinary chap by all measures, left hearth, home and Mom in NJ to finish his last two years of high school at a well-regarded prep school in NH.
It was an incredible opportunity but it was a big step, for both of us. We had the excitement of shopping for the shower caddy, microwaveable anything and, my favorite, a new wardrobe (Goth is not big at prep schools). As I drove for seven hours through New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts I remembered all the milestones that brought me to this day. The first smile, the first word, the first step. How was I going to drive away without him?
We found his room, a cramped little spot with a window that looked like it hadn’t been opened since the school’s inauguration in 1781. As he hung new clothes in the narrow closet and set up a new computer on the battered desk I surveyed his new world. Out the window I saw beautiful old buildings hung with the proverbial ivy. I saw kids, with the radiance of endless possibilities, walking from the cool, dark library. How was I going to leave at all? Vermeer, Keats, Disraeli. I imagined all that he’d be hearing and seeing in the next year. If only I could do this again with my quieter mind and more humble heart.
But I couldn’t do it again, at least not now. This was his time. So I hugged him goodbye, three times, and trekked back to my home and my 13-year-old daughter. It was quieter and simpler with just the two of us. The grocery bill lessened considerably, as did the laundry. I missed him and sent little notes, e-mails and unreturned phone calls. But, all in all, I adjusted much better than I had expected.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my son was growing up. A lot. He did his own laundry. He woke himself up every morning (well not every morning, according to the guidance counselor). He had his own MAC card. And that was just the exterior. The interior was changing too, in much less definable ways. When he came home for the summer he was a much different person than the one that left nine months before. He was a young man. And I was still the mother of a child.
The clashes were frequent, loud and testy. Suddenly, I didn’t know anything except how to put gas in the car and make dinner. I could see by the look on his face that he honestly did not know how I held down a job all these years. What he didn’t appreciate was that I knew something of life’s tragedies and I was hell-bent on protecting him from them.
We were at cross-purposes. He yearned to live life to its fullest as I sought desperately to corral this brash, naive immortal. It was only after I spent an evening looking through old photographs of myself when I was an immortal that I understood. I recalled the exuberance, the fearlessness, the hope. If I yoked him with my experience he’d miss it all. I realized that he deserved to make his own milestones, happy and sad. That’s what made a life.
He wasn’t the only one growing up.