It’s Thursday night at 8:30, and in 36 hours my son will be leaving for college. Nothing’s been packed and his laundry’s just now being washed, almost as if this isn’t really going to happen. We did do a bit of shopping last weekend to acknowledge in at least some small way that he’s going someplace different—a place where he’ll need his own wastebasket.
I’m not going with him on Saturday. His father hasn’t seen the campus, so we agreed he would take him. When Michael and I thought it through, we realized there wasn’t much point to my coming; it’s not as if I was going to unpack him or make his bed like I did when I dropped him at overnight camp. With his father there, I wouldn’t be having a meal with him, either. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided I would stay home.
“Saying goodbye isn’t going to be any easier there,” he said.
I suppose not.
People have been asking since the beginning of Michael’s senior year how I felt about his going to college.
“Excited for him,” I say.
“But how do you feel about him leaving?”
Hunh. It really hadn’t occurred to me.
I don’t think either of us has examined our feelings about the separation, which is now imminent, it seems. My psyche is spectacularly adept at keeping certain feelings out of view until they really need to be looked at, or until I’m ready to face them. I’m well-known for my stoicism, which I’ve put into practice too many times with my chronically ill middle son and his myriad exotic and life-threatening complications. It’s not intentional: my subconscious just happens to be clever enough to protect me from emotional trauma.
But the time’s come to lift the shroud on this event and see what’s hiding beneath. How will I feel?
The thing is, though I’ve been careful not to parentify him, this particular child has always been unusually emotionally mature—since he was a baby, really. He displayed a joy in connecting with adults that I never saw in my other children; this has been obvious to many of his teachers and other adults in his life. Over the past several years that I’ve been a single mom, he’s essentially been the second adult in my house (though, rest assured, he has, on occasion, behaved plenty childishly).
In some sense, it’s not a child who’s leaving; it’s been so long since I’ve viewed him as that. Put it this way: he’s my son, but I’m not so sure that I could aptly describe him as my “child,” if that makes any sense. Anyhow, I’ll still have two children at home, one practically a baby. I don’t think it’s the notion of one of my birds flying the nest that bothers me. (This may not be true eight years from now when my little one goes.)
What I’ve been slowly realizing is traumatic enough to be repressed is that this adult presence—this exceptionally fun and interesting person—won’t be here. Despite my intention to maintain at least some sort of maternal stance with him, interactions in the parenting realm comprise about 5% of our time together and are generally limited to my nagging him about tasks related to starting college. Beyond that, between my never having really grown up and his never having really been a child, we are essentially friends and, to a small extent, confidants. (There are things about his mother a boy does not want to know, and things about himself a boy does not want his mother to know. Anyhow, I think being too much of a buddy with your kid is kind of icky.) In many ways, he’s my only ally in the house, the only person who cares to connect with me as a human being and not just a means to an end.
As I write this, I realize that we are so attached, and is such a positive way, our contact surely will be frequent. I don’t fear losing him to the real world—I genuinely look forward to seeing how he makes his way in it, and to hearing about each surprising thing he learns about himself.
So what’s the big trauma then? Aside from the fact that I’ll miss his company, it sounds as if it’s all good.
Except for one thing: when he’s gone, I’ll be alone.