It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel… not exactly fine, but I’ll get there (hopefully)
Okay, I’m being a little dramatic with my headline, I know. 😃 But just bear with me…
A few weeks ago, on a regular, nondescript weekday night, my wife and I were laying on our bed, relaxing for a moment after dinner, while our youngest was getting a shower and our oldest was in her room, picking on her guitar.
Our youngest, who’s nine years old, loves to sing in the shower. He belts out tunes from Matilda: The Musical, Mamma Mia! and Hamilton whenever they pop into his head, or as soon as he hears them in a movie — with incredible gusto, I should add.
The other night, he happened to leave the door to the bathroom open as he sang, so we could hear his voice drift in over the sound and the steam of the shower. While that was happening, our oldest picked up her guitar and started playing in her room, just a door down from the bathroom.
She loves to sing too, but this night she didn’t — she simply strummed the strings. His voice over her guitar sounds had the effect of sounding like the two of them were playing and singing together, even though it was completely coincidental, and each was performing a completely different song.
As I listened, I looked over at my wife and asked, “do you hear that?”
She nodded and smiled, laughing at me because she knows this is one of those moments I’ll latch onto, that I get emotional about. And that’s when it hit me.
She’s eighteen years old. She’s going to college in the fall. There are only so many more moments like this we’re going to have together as a foursome; in a few short months, actually just over a hundred days, we’ll be packing up her things and moving them all into her freshman dorm.
Of course, we’ll be there most of the day. It’ll take hours for us to get her clothes, books and supplies packed up, put in the car, and drive the hours it takes to get to her new campus. Once we’re there, it’ll take a while to unpack it, to lug it up the stairs and into her room, and a while longer to get it set up.
We’ll have to check the car a few times to make sure we got everything of hers out and put in her room; we’ll probably dawdle a bit, awkwardly, as we try to stall before the moment we know is coming.
Then we’ll probably think to ourselves, “let’s get lunch before we go.” We’ll find a place downtown where we can sit down to eat but still doesn’t take too long; we’ll run into fellow freshmen students and their parents, introduce ourselves, and chit-chat.
Sooner than we think, we’ll have finished lunch and it’ll be time to go. We’ll pay our check, walk out of the restaurant and get back in the car. I’ll exhale a little more loudly than I normally do, because it will hit me that the moment we’ll say goodbye isn’t days away or hours away; it’s minutes away.
We’ll take our time driving back to her dorm, and it won’t be easy to find a parking spot, with all the parents dropping off their kids that day. Finally, though, we’ll find one. And then we’ll get outside, walk her inside and it’ll be time.
Time to say goodbye, even though it’s not really goodbye. We’ll probably see her again in just a couple of months, because Parents’ Weekend isn’t too deep into the fall. But it’ll be different then, you know?
Recently, I was listening to an old interview Marc Maron did with Jerry Seinfeld, in which he talks about loving the solitude of being a stand-up comedian while also having a family: “I love the mosh pit,” he said, that everyone in his house — his wife and three kids — are on top of each other all the time, in each other’s business constantly.
For the longest time in my life, I didn’t know what that was like. My wife and I didn’t marry until I was almost 42 years old; our youngest came along nine months later. So I had this whole, extended adolescence-to-adulthood where it was just me for a long, long time.
Starting a family is like taking all of that, throwing it into a blender with a bunch of papayas, strawberries, raspberries and who knows what else, and then saying, “let’s see what happens!”
When we take our daughter to college later this year, we’ll drive there as a family of four, which we’ve been for a little over a decade now. When we drive back, it’ll be just the three of us, coming back to a house where we’ll live as the three of us.
Dinner at night will have three place settings, not four. Of course, she’ll come back and spend lots of time with us yet; but most of the time, she’ll be away. A new dynamic will take the place of the one that came before, and there may be a lot more silence than we’re used to, at least for a while.
(I know, of course, that none of this qualifies as a major crisis 😃 We’ll get through it! But it is a transition to a new part of life, and we’re leaving behind something that matters, something that’s grounded us and kept us together. How do we keep that together in this new phase?
We’ll have to figure that out.
As always, keep in touch and let me know what’s new in your running/life. I always love hearing what you’re up to!
My oldest went to college 2 years ago and honestly I was a mess. It was strange because I sincerely wanted her to go and have a big beautiful life. I wasn't sad that she was leaving, I was sad because somewhere along the way she grew up. And yet I love my grown up Molly, she is amazing and she is going to have adventures and mess and all the things. The grief is that she will never seamlessly fold into our lives the way she did before, and while that is okay and honest, it's an end.
I mistakenly thought if I were one of those people that actually cherished those sweet times, that maybe the grief wouldn't hit me so hard. But it did. However, the grief did not show up with regret for which I'm thankful for.
Whether bringing them to preschool/kinder for the first time or sending them off to college (or wherever) it's a series of goodbyes.
Be kind to your heart. Loving these kids as much as we do is wonderful and terrifying. <3
Parenthood is bittersweet, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.