It has finally happened. One of my ducklings has flown the nest. He isn't far away. In fact, he is less than ten miles, in a house right around the corner from my mother's. It doesn't matter. He may as well have moved to the moon. That is how far it feels right now.
Tomorrow marks two weeks since his official departure. It is sinking in. He isn't at camp. He isn't on a school trip. He didn't go spend the night (or a few) with a friend. He is gone. Out. Moved. Launched. Jettisoned. He won't be back for any significant amount of time if things go as hoped. Maybe a dinner here, a holiday there, split between his father and I. The little bit of him I had simply because he slept under the same roof is now widened into under the same sky, in a different zip code. My heart has gone still. Where has he gone? Not physically but mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally.
I am not sure really what I am feeling. I am worrying a great deal. Tallying up unanswered text messages. Noting responses to things I post on Facebook (or lack thereof). I keep stumbling into mental questions like "What is Nick's work schedule this week?" and realizing I not only do not know, I do not have a NEED to know. Stillness. I sit, waiting, feeling the softness of his absence settling down around me like drifting feathers. It feels like that scene in a movie when the young woman watches the young man drive away, leaving settling dust, the fade of his engine and a heavy silence, the taste of Did That Really Happen lingering lonely on the tongue.
Okay, that really isn't honest. He has left a LOT of markers he was here. In fact, he left half his room, which he swears he intends to come get as of a week ago last Saturday. No, nevermind. This past Monday. Oh. Wait. No. So so busy... Maybe on Wednesday. I reminded him he has two paychecks waiting for him here and then wonder, if money isn't a lure to get him to come home, what will be? Is he gone forever? Is he eating? Is he working enough to pay his expenses? Is he lonely? Making good choices? Falling prey to bad influences? Did he buy toilet paper? Should I ask? If the answer is "no", do I want to even know that and what it would say about my parenting? Are dudes in biker gangs picking on him and his sensible Honda Accord? Are his roommates stealing his underwear and putting them in the freezer? Is he eating ice cream out of a freezer with dirty underwear in it?! To judge by Facebook, he is spending a LOT of time watching that Neil DeGrasse fellow and this new expedition to Pluto. Oh sure. Out discovering new planets without me, that crazy, ungrateful wretch. How could he? Bet he can't wait to move THERE too! Hmph.
I wonder if he is spending his time tallying up all my failures as a mother ,the way I am myself, all the things I hoped we would do, all the books I should have read, hugs I should have given, one-more-kisses goodnight. Is he laying tearfully, resentfully in bed recalling the moments of bad temper and desperate punishments? The boring way I can't play video games or watch cartoons like his father can (Thank goodness I got rid of HER!)? Will my non-geekness and foofy girliness mean we won't ever be friends now that he has a choice on whether to spend time with me? Is he going to be okay? What is he doing, anyway?? To the concerned reader, yes. I realize this is neurotic as hell.
I looked forward to this time from the beginning. I could not wait to watch my children fly. I saw it as the ultimate reward of good mothering - a child that can survive without you is, after all, the ultimate, most basic goal. Somehow I assumed I would get to watch them survive without me, like a fly on the wall, a benevolent observer, hands half-way outstretched just in case of a fall. Turns out gone is gone. There is no watching, no wings, no poised-to-rescue. Just lots of worrying and hoping, praying and worrying some more while you try to figure out how to straddle the line between fond, loving, you-can-do-this, I-am-letting-go communication and neurotic, crazed, I-bet-he-won't-even-come-home-at-Christmas-now nagging on "why don't you call" and "are you taking your vitamins and using a condoms EVERY SINGLE TIME!?"
Here's the thing....the gut deep, honest truth. I have always hated the pressure of the "enjoy every minute, they grow so fast!" missives that the wise and older generations anxiously press upon you from the second they are born. Barf in your hair? Savor it honey, it goes away so fast! Tantrum on the floor of Kroger? These days are fleeting! Take mental pictures! Poop smeared on the bedroom wall? This phase won't last forever! Cherish it! Teenaged outbursts, filthy hair and scary things under the bed you don't really want to know about? That is precious, precious time honey The sentiment never resonated with me and I never understood it, which lead to circles within circles of what-kind-of-a-mother-are-you-anyway levels of guilt. For all those who ever said it to me, I hated you in that moment. Loathed. Resented. That statement of "They grow so fast, better cherish it" came laden with lots of guilty push-back for me and a stifled retort of "Oh yeah! Want to stand in line at Wal-Mart with them the day before Thanksgiving? No? Then get away from me! Pfft. Cherish indeed. Jerk."
And now......suddenly.....finally.....I get it.
Turns out....gone.........is gone. That silence? That is the sound of all the things you didn't get around to doing, the things you could not afford to give or that life didn't allow for. It has a flavor, a bitter sweetness....it is the essence of your ideals regarding the perfect life you wanted to provide, calculated almost subconsciously in the millisecond moment when your arms tucked in and around their slick, newborn body and their blurred, sweet eyes met yours for the first time. That was it, Sheri. That was your only shot. Your turn is over and the opportunity to go back and do it the way you hoped to is gone. The boy....is gone. You sought to mold him, to provide him with a good life and an unyielding, unending, painfully honest love. Instead, you discover that is exactly what he did for you. I am convinced he taught me more than I did him. I am absolutely positive I am a better person for the experience and awash in gratitude for the time I did get. And I am knocked backward by how hard this is. I think I fully expected it to pale in comparison to Joseph's death. They are different, two complete and separate modes of mourning and both are very, very painful.
Like so many things....the fantasy of it is so incredibly different from the reality. I am missing my boy. I am that Mom after all.