When the other moms high-fived each other to celebrate their newly found freedom as the big yellow bus pulled away from the curb on the first day of kindergarten, I was the mom blinking fast. For me, the beginning of school was the end of unfettered time, the end of time structured only by inclination and weather and not subject to the constraints of the school calendar.
While this was the first time that excitement over what was new was tempered by sadness over what it was replacing, it would by no means be the last. Every milestone meant crossing a threshold that separated the past from the future.
When my sons went to college, the house was too quiet and the dog at first worried and then depressed, which gave me something to tell people when they asked how I was. I smiled and made them laugh describing how the loyal black lab the boys had grown up with wandered around their empty rooms straining her neck to peer up at their beds as if they were back in some corner she couldn’t quite see. I meant it when I laughed that time. Those four years away were just temporary. Our house was still their home.
The next move though was different. This time a moving van paid for by his employer moved my oldest son’s belongings to another state. This time when people asked how I was I joked about having to keep a close watch on him so he didn’t put everything that wasn’t nailed down into the van. Though I laughed, I recognized his longing looks at regular household items as the first indication of his mixed feelings about leaving the past behind even in the midst of his excitement about what came next.
This time things were different. This time this wasn’t temporary. This time blinking fast didn’t work. He noticed. When I told him I was crying because this was the end of him living with me, he smiled and made me laugh when he said of course it wasn’t, that I’d live with him again when I was an old woman, in his basement. When people asked how I was, I told them this story and said he is a good boy. But the point is he isn’t a boy anymore. This time my laughter was disingenuous.
After he drove down the driveway in his new car, headed off to his new life where the moving van had taken all his stuff, including a few buried treasures, familiar household items surreptitiously stashed in boxes, I cried. Tears filled my goggles during my morning swim, and I blew through the packet of Kleenex in the car door driving home by myself.
I didn’t cry like this when I left home, but I did when my sister did. We stayed up talking all night the night before she left for grad school. In the morning we stood in the driveway next to the loaded down car, hugging and sobbing until our father insisted enough was enough and it was time to leave. I watched the car disappear down the street and then cried in the house all by myself.
My parents laughed when they told the story about how my sister had cried in the backseat all the way through Pennsylvania and at least half way through Ohio. My sister and I cried because we both knew this was the end of our living together.
Though we’ve visited each other in cities all over the country and in multiple time zones on three continents, we haven’t lived together since that morning she left the home we’d grown up in. I remembered this when my sons’ leavings reminded me that what is not temporary is permanent.
When my younger son graduated from college, got a job, and moved, it was easier because he only moved a few miles away. There was no moving van, but multiple trips in the SUV, not unlike moving into a dorm. There was no dramatic final departure down the driveway, but lots of back and forth to get things he left behind and bring things back that didn’t quite work in the rental house.
Though the ease of his departure, as well as his frequent, casual visits, at first masked that this was his leave-taking, the point is that his visits, no matter how frequent, are visits. He doesn’t live at home anymore either. That part of their lives, and so of my life, is over.
Mourning the end of the way things were does not mean not welcoming what comes next.
I haven’t forgotten that growing up was always the point. I knew all along the way that each step forward was also a step away. But bursts of anticipation and excitement were always braided with moments of reluctance and sorrow. Sometimes I felt guilt about how I felt. Sometimes I still do. But maybe parental wisdom means being able to hold two contradictory feelings at the same time, a customized emotional dissonance.
Though Semisonic is referring to a different kind of relationship when they sing “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” the sentiment scans perfectly.
Being in the moment means cherishing moments, even when they’ve become memories.
Lindsay Throm is a Mom to two “Grown and Flown” sons, by which she means they have both graduated from college and are now working their first professional jobs. She currently resides in Virginia with her husband and their black lab, Ripley.