The collection of shoes arranged across the front of our living room is gone. It has been relocated to a for-real shoe rack, courtesy of IKEA, behind the front door. But, the sentiment remains. This image always makes me think of my children and their coming and going and coming and—Sigh!— going, again.
My favorite part is the coming home.
Even now, I tend to linger over the shoes on the rack. I alternate between exasperation that there are perhaps too many there—we should take the ones we don’t wear every day back to our rooms, put them in a closet or slide them under the bed—and measured comfort in the understanding that they are still here. My children are home with me.
Last week, a Facebook friend very kindly reminded me and all of her friends with a post that the Common Application had become available. If you’re not there yet, that means it is open season on college applications. It means that your last year’s junior/this year’s senior is about to ramp up the angst. It means you’re going to be writing some checks. It means that you are going to be filling out some FAFSA. It means that you are going to be going on more tours, reading some personal statements, checking deadlines, and seeking a calming force. It means you’re going to be wringing teachable moments, tidbits of advice, and how-to-do-laundry-read-a-train-schedule-boil-water lessons out of every apt moment. You’re going to be watching her and asking yourself, “When did this happen?”
I’ll tell you. It happened in plain sight, right under your nose. While you’ve been hustling her out the door in the morning, running the gauntlet of back-to-school nights, catching up on friend-group drama, and pick-ups and drop-offs; in the midst of budding teen romance, prom, Driver’s Ed, and figuring out (again) what’s for dinner. While you weren’t too sure about that bold, red lipstick she wears (but you have to admit she rocks.) While you were watching, but then blinked-- it happened.
Then, if you’re like me, there’s the other one. Headed off to his freshman year in high school and you start devising plans to keep him safe at home in your little nest and you’ve almost figured out how to convince him it will all be for the best, but you know that will make you a bad mom so, you give up. He’s leaving, too.
If you’re wondering when that happened, it was sometime between soccer or basketball practice and the time you realized you could no longer see the top of his head. Between reminding him to brush his teeth before bed and that time the new sound of his voice made you think there was a stranger in the house. And after the child you thought might never leave because he’s an introvert and a homebody and (gotta face it) a bit of a mama’s boy, but he takes a chance and goes away on a weeklong tournament with his coach and his team. And you realize that he has survived all that time without you.
And here you are, again, mama. Letting go, letting go, letting go a little bit more. You’ve understood that this was part of the bargain from the beginning, but you thought there was more time. Then if you’re anything like me, again, you are counting down the years, months, and days that you have left to just not screw it up. They’re pretty decent kids so far, but you still pray.
I have resolved to focus on the short term.
Let’s just work on today, I’ll say to the kid that doesn’t like change and is a bundle of anxiety. Let’s just focus on today. My high school freshman will have day-to-day challenges adjusting to the new school, making friends, learning which cafeteria fare is dicey and which turns out to be pretty good, remembering the combination to his gym locker. Then, “What can I do to support you in the upcoming week?” I’ll ask my Common App kid. Honestly, I prefer to keep my distance, referring her back to her very able college counselor at the very hint of a question. But, in a pinch? I’m there! Whatever it is, we’ll make it happen.
That’s the word that comes to me when I think of this upcoming year. How can I be there for all of it? Please, let me cross all of my t’s and dot all of my i’s because she’s relying on me to get it right. Please, let me recognize if he needs a little more support because that school is really big and he’s so quiet. Let me be there to do my part for the applications, school conferences, tennis matches, school plays, carpools, open houses, parent meetings, family gatherings, friend dates… the listening, the hugs, the loud and crazy moments, the quiet moments, the ordinary moments. Being there in themoment because they are going to be fewer and farther between. Maybe I can manage to be two, or three places at once. You think? Maybe we’ll have less take out and more home cooked meals like when they were small. Maybe we can have more movie nights with popcorn and warm cookies, all cuddled on the couch. Maybe they won’t mind too much if I sometimes linger in their bedroom doorway and shake my head at the disorganized mess that they insist is neither, or to make sure they’re doing homework, or to just say goodnight.
Maybe they'll cut me some slack because they can tell that I'm all about the angst.