Sep 4th, 2012 | By Nancie Carmichael | Category: Family Matters, Relationships
By Nancie Carmichael –
Home again. We stumbled in the door, weary from the two-day trip back from Southern California. Bill engineered the kids from the outside, giving them suitcases, sleeping bags and miscellaneous loads of whatever it is people take on trips. I directed them from the kitchen, intercepting dirty laundry before it disappeared upstairs.
Three children left. We had gone to Southern California to escort our two oldest sons to college since we had a van and could fill it with everything that wouldn’t fit in their Honda—clothes, bedding, furnishings. It had helped the younger three that the college was close to Disneyland. So we’d had fun, too. It was strange, but it seemed that as soon as we’d left Jon and Eric, Chris and Andrew and Amy seemed larger—more like real people. They filled up more space. Had we been pouring that much emotional energy into Jon and Eric? The final two years of childhood are much like the first two—a lot of detailing and finessing goes into a child before he takes flight.
Now, Chris. Now suddenly six feet tall at age 16 and wearing size 12 shoes. I had stolen occasional glances at him as we drove north towards home on I-5. What does he think? This quiet, introspective child now gingerly trying on manhood like a new coat, not sure how he likes it or how to wear it, but proud of it. And definitely keeping it.
And Andrew—13 and still loving boyhood. And life. And teasing his sister. However, signs of things to come: his voice is deepening. Andy’s prayers are thoughtful these days. It seems to me that he is seeing life in a bigger way now.
Amy. Part my baby, part a wise woman from the East. This nine-year-old child—abandoned in Korea—now in the market for a training bra and jeans.
Now home again, the house silently happy to see us, the remnants of its family. Bill is going through ten days of mail, Chris fielding phone calls already.
I put the dirty clothes in the strangely clean laundry room. Funny. I hadn’t seen the floor all summer. It was yellow, wasn’t it? No duffel bags, golf bags or basketball shoes. How nice. But of course—two less boys translates into less laundry. So why do I have this lump in my throat?
Chris is calling from upstairs. “Mom, when can I move up?”
“Move? You mean to Jon and Eric’s room?”
“Now, wait.” I climb the stairs slowly, hesitating before the third floor dorm room, afraid of ghosts. “I don’t know that we’re ready to do this. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
He’s already in there, irreverently trashing old posters, moving beds, emptying a dresser drawer of worn out basketball jerseys and outgrown jeans. I pick up some of Eric’s graduation cards he’d left on the dresser, idly wondering what to do with them. It didn’t seem quite right to throw them away. His bed had the comforter pulled back like he’d just crawled out of bed. I could almost see his 6’4” frame on the bed, one lanky leg hanging over. I could almost hear him: “Hey Mom—can you pray with me?” A childhood habit. A privilege. Sometimes a chore. Sometimes powerfully sacred. Whispered worries about exams, girlfriends, school pressure. Dreams of future accomplishments.
That lump is there again. Tears come, surprising me. A memory flashed in my mind of Eric at two—thick blond hair, blue eyes and deep dimples. I remembered how he looked in a red turtleneck shirt and blue overalls, little chubby arms around my neck.
“Look Mom.” Chris is pulling my arm. “I’m going to make this a study area over here. What do you think?”
“Great, Chris.” I surreptitiously wipe tears and smile brilliantly, feeling dismayed. I thought I had settled the problem of children leaving home with Jon, two years ago. I had cried until my head hurt in this very room. Will every child’s leaving hurt like this?
Chris now had my full attention, like a long-awaited and loved guest who only has a brief stay. And he wants a study area. You bet, darling.’
Later, the phone rang. It was Eric. His dad was on one extension and I in the kitchen, plying him with unimportant questions.
“What do you eat?” I had to know. He said he wasn’t sleeping well. His father suggested a plywood board to put under his mattress. He forgot his favorite pants. I immediately put together a care package in my mind, cushioning the forgotten pants with molasses cookies and Rice Krispy treats. Eric gave great detail to salad bars, entrees, people he’d met, what they wore. Every detail was fascinating. He wanted to talk to his brothers and Amy, but they were all asleep. He reluctantly handed the phone to Jon, our college junior.
“Hi,” I greeted brightly.
“Hey mom and dad. How’re you doing?”
“Great. What’s happening there?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just classes, basketball practice. Working hard. Oh hi, Chad. Yeah, I’m about ready. No, it’s just my folks. Sorry Mom. What were you saying?”
“Oh, just wondering how you are. How the food is, what your classes are like. Any new friends?”
“Well—doin’ good, doin’ good. Just fine.” He was friendly but preoccupied, impatient to go.
Bill and I said our promises of future reunions, talked school bills and lingering “See ya’s.”
After we hung up I went to the bedroom to find Bill. He put his arms around me, smiling. “Looks like we’re working ourselves out of a job,” he says. His arms feel good to me. Comforting. We hold each other without saying anything, smiling wistful, gentle smiles. We had our babies, loved them, watched them grow and pretended that we owned them. Now make-believe is over, and they’re leaving.
How do I mourn the loss of their childhood? There are no books or seminars about that. No Hallmark cards. It’s a private, parent matter. You cry a little, sort the scrapbooks, and smile into the future. Now is the season for goodbye. Like the September leaves that turn yellow and fall, it’s time.
Nancie Carmichael is a speaker and author of several books, including, “Lord, Bless My Child” (with her husband, Bill)
“Selah—Time to Stop, Think, and Step into Your Future”
“Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning”
Contact her at nanciecarmichael@yahoo and visit her website, nanciecarmichael.com