I am sure I have mentioned before this wisdom shared by a good friend, but I cannot find it, so here it is again.
Some “lasts” pass without our awareness. The last time you put your son down and never carry him again because he has grown too big for you to lift, or he has reached that point in his development where he demands his independence. You don’t realize the last time you put a spoon in his mouth, or take him out of the high chair, because it is your goal for him to feed himself, and it is that accomplishment you celebrate with cheers and applause. The other milestone passes unnoticed. The last time you cheer him on at a ballgame. The last time you have a character-based birthday party. The last Christmas he believes in Santa Claus, last Halloween he trick-or-treats, or Easter you make him an Easter egg hunt.
As they (and you) get older, the “lasts” become much more noticeable. When you drive away from college, seeing their reflection in your rearview mirror, you know that your relationship has changed forever. They are adults, and you are done raising them. Whatever person they are, for good or for bad, you are finished with your part of the job. From that point on, they will be more profoundly shaped by the people they meet in their busy lives, in classes, in fraternities or sororities, dating, or work. You know this because that is what happened with you and your parents.
Now I come to it. The inspiration for this pensive and reflective post. Our oldest son, Kevin, has been living with us these past three years, including nine months of Covid quarantine. They have been difficult ones for him, yet the man he has become has not shared much of his pain or many of his concerns. He has kept to himself when worried or depressed or defeated, in spite of the fact that we are just downstairs, watching TV and happy to turn it off if he wants to talk.
But this has also been a precious time for which I will be forever grateful. Kevin is a very thoughtful, intelligent person, and it has been a great joy to talk with him for hours about the books he has read or is reading; to learn from him about world history and cultures that I have never experienced; and to get his perspective on different occurrences, people, and situations which stretch me beyond my own worldview. I value his advice, and do not hesitate to rely on him for help as I would any other adult.
This week he is moving out. Again, because we have been here before, but it’s no easier for the previous experience. Brian, our younger son, worries me constantly for his willingness to plunge into danger, determined to make the world a better place by vanquishing the bad guys. Kevin worries me constantly for his reluctance to rock the boat; to cause any trouble; or to speak up when something is wrong. He will shut me out in deafening silence when I cannot see for myself what is happening in his life, believing that he has no right to complain because his troubles are no different or worse than anyone else’s. He humbly refuses to acknowledge his impressive talent as a writer and thinker, and as an accumulator of knowledge that is otherwise disappearing from the collective conscious.
Kevin moved home because he and his fiancée were trying to get a foothold in their life together. Newly graduated from Dartmouth College, their impressive education had not yet afforded them the equally impressive jobs that would enable them to stay together. Preetha had to leave because her visa ran out, and though we thought it temporary, another unrecognized “last” was saying goodbye to her at our front door. We have not seen her again, and it seems their marriage was never meant to be.
I am happy for my son, in spite of this maudlin post. He has never said so, but it must have been hard for a man who has had his independence to be obligated to tell Mom and Dad when he is going out and when he will be home. It can’t have been easy to endure his father’s judgement of the way he keeps his room, or the way he chooses to relax (video games–what else would you expect from a child of the nineties and early twenties?), or the job he has chosen. And of course, everyday, every minute, Mom hovering, worrying and plaguing him with questions. How was your day? Did people treat you well? Are you enjoying life? When are you going to see your friends again? I am sure he’s thinking “Whew! I made it through living with my parents,” though he would never say such a thing aloud.
Thank goodness (for his mom) this time is different. He will be tethered to us by our granddog, Pop. Grandpa will be taking custody every Tuesday and Thursday, and hopefully, Kevin will stay and eat dinner with us when he comes to pick him up. His housemate is welcome, of course, as he is a young man we have known and loved like a son, but Kevin does not anticipate that will be a common occurrence. We are also available to “Pop-sit” whenever Kevin needs to be away overnight, whether it is a day, a weekend, or longer.
But as he moves out once again, probably for the final time, I cannot help but wonder what “lasts” I am missing in the event. Have we experienced the last time he sits in his father’s chair, talking for hours on a Saturday teaching me about Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Indian philosophy? Is it the last time Grandpa and I will be sneaking Pop bacon at our Sunday morning breakfast? Will it be the last time I find Kevin’s favorite yogurt in the refrigerator, or Cheerios in the pantry? Have I texted him for the last time to find out what he needs at the store?
Though he is grown, the sentiment I gave him when he left for college is still true. As he continues to make his way through a world “where the wild things are,” he should always know that he can:
sail back over a year and in and out of weeks
and through a day and into the night of his very own room
where he will find his supper waiting for him—and it will still be hot.
Where someone loves him most of all.