Seven months and twenty or so days, give or take. That’s the amount of time I expect I have left with my oldest son living under my roof before moving away to college. Yet the tears started flowing at least four months ago when he first became a Senior. No one warned me I’d be an emotional wreck for an entire year before he even left. It’s not like I didn’t know this phase of life was coming. We’ve been talking about college since he was in 8thgrade it seems. So why do I feel so caught off guard all the time? Every “last” evokes tears now.
The last soccer game was particularly brutal. As the referee blew the whistle bringing the post-season playoff game to an end, the tears began to fill my eyes. I kept it together while at the game, but I swear when I walked in the door at home, the waterworks began.
I’d watched that little boy, now a young man, play soccer since he was five years old. By my calculation, I’d probably sat through well over two hundred games in his career. In rain, snow flurries, freezing cold, brutal heat…there I was cheering him on…his biggest fan. I’d driven to and from SO many practices….at least four times the amount of games I sat through. I’d washed grass-stained, mud-covered, odor-filled uniforms and socks more times than I could ever count. I’d dealt with the lost shin guards and the stinky cleats (ugh that smell!) again and again over twelve years.
And when that last whistle blew this October, I’d instantly yearned for another lifetime of ALL of it. Stinky cleats and all. It’s so hard to imagine not sitting in the bleachers cheering him on any longer. That overwhelming pride I felt as his mom when he took the field…I will surely miss that. He will of course give me so much more to be proud of in his lifetime, but I will miss my soccer player.
Then came the senior pictures. Why oh why must they take and send them so early in Senior year? Seeing that grown up child in that cap and gown is just tear-inducing. It’s a reminder of what’s to come in a few short months, in case I’d actually had the good fortune to put that thought out of my mind for a while.
And in the midst of all of my nostalgia and anxiety and anticipation of next fall, we find ourselves knee-deep in college applications. I had previously thought we were well-prepared for this process but oh how wrong I was! My intelligent, well-equipped-for-this son has melded into the world’s biggest procrastinator, missing early action deadlines and opportunities to apply for honors programs at his chosen universities. The stress levels are high. And it’s disappointing, for both of us, to spend any portion of his last year at home in this state of mind.
Like so many moms of teens have written before me, the angst of teenage boys is palpable. My previously huggable, affectionate and kind son often turns into a growling, door-slamming, “you’re so annoying” yelling beast more often than I could imagine was possible. And hidden in those moments of insanity are moments of calm and rational conversations with him. And what teens don’t get is that, regardless of which of those personalities are on display, you love them unconditionally.
Senior year is only four months in and it’s already been an emotional roller coaster. We’re encouraging our son to go away to college, to spread his wings and see that there’s more to the world than the few square miles he’s grown up in. But I have to be careful what I wish for as I’m terrified of how I will handle it if he chooses a school that’s hundreds of miles away.
I can already anticipate coming home from moving him into his dorm, only to find an empty bed in his room. The empty seat at the dinner table crosses my mind often too, although the times we get to eat together as a family are becoming few and far between in this busy life. As a mom, it’s just knowing that they’re under your roof that gives you a sense of peace. It’s very hard to accept that less than eight months from now, our house will have an emptiness without him here.
It’s funny how the roller coaster of parenting works. Eager young newlyweds yearn for a baby desperately. Then that little newborn arrives and melts your heart. It takes only a matter of days for that new parent bliss to turn into full on exhaustion and stress due to endless feedings, sleepless nights and, in my case, colic. You finally get them to sleep through the night and find yourselves in the midst of the terrible twos. And threes. Boy are those terrible, torturous threes underrated! And finally, at four they seem to turn a corner. They’re potty-trained, more rational and easier to take out in public and to restaurants with much less effort.
For the next thirteen years, you continue to deal with the highs and lows. Sure, there are the joys of their achievements academically, athletically and socially. There are the milestones they accomplish. There are their ever-changing appearances. But there are also the sibling arguments, the attitudes, the homework and the struggles. There’s endless laundry and meals that take an hour to cook and ten minutes to consume, only to hear someone complain they don’t like what’s on the menu.
There are the sports and the carpooling and events to shuffle them around to so much that you’re ready to put an Uber decal in your car window. As a result, we find ourselves so often wishing away these everyday moments. Like if we could just get past this “phase”, life will get so much easier. But does it? Bigger kids, bigger problems.
They’re suddenly, as if right before your very eyes, full-grown adults applying to colleges and preparing to leave the nest. And ironically, you’d give anything to have the chaos of the past 17 years back. Because through all the stress and complaining, you were needed. The independence that child is about to gain is often terrifying to us as parents. Will they be safe? Will they be successful? Will they make smart choices? Will they come back home? Will they still need us? The emptiness starts to set in and boy does it hit you like a ton of bricks.
So here we are, in the midst of senior year. I want to hug him, yet he’s not huggable. I want to spend time with him while I can, yet friends are so much more fun and cooler than Mom. I want to smile, but my heart wants to cry. It is the epitome of bittersweet. It’s the happiness of wanting your child to spread their wings and fly with all the valuable lessons you’ve taught them. You want to watch them grow and succeed and start families of their own.
But boy do you want them to be yours for just a little while longer. You want to feel needed. And, when there are younger siblings in the house, you realize that after you survive this one leaving, the next one will too. And then the next. And you wonder, what does life have in store for me, for us, when the birds fly the nest? The uncertainty is scary, especially when you’re going through this for the first time.
The year of tears has been tough on me. But I am confident I raised a smart, kind, humble and driven human being. He’s going to do great things. My work here is nearly done. And the tears, well I’m positive they’ll eventually be tears of happiness again as I take pride in all that life has in store for him.
Victoria Duffy is a mom of three: a 17-year-old son and 11-year-old boy/girl twins. Her life can only be described as “organized chaos”. She juggles a full-time job and the chaos of motherhood. Like most moms, she never gives herself enough credit and always feels like she’s falling short both at work and at home.