“How will you feel with both kids gone?” people keep asking me. For most of the summer, I find the prospect utterly depressing. What will Doug and I talk about over the dinner table? How will I spend my days, if not chiding Jake about his empty ice-cream bowls and discarded shoes?
When the time comes, though — when, today, after a long day of hauling all Jake’s crap up to his second-floor dorm room, of meeting his roommate and listening to speeches and opening a bank account for him and buying him a mini fridge and stocking it with Gatorade, of shaking hands with his new football coach and eyeing the young people who’ll be his new friends and trying desperately not to do anything that could be construed as embarrassing to him, it’s time to say goodbye — I do better than anyone, myself included, expects. I only cry a little, when my son hugs me and tells me he loves me. My arms don’t fit around him; I can’t hold him to me anymore.
Then it’s into the car, a wave, and — where’s the nearest Dunkin’? I feel … okay. I feel a little relieved. These years of parenting, of getting them to this point, have been so hard. Raising children forces you constantly to try to articulate and practice and defend the most abstruse concepts: justice, honor, reverence, liberty. It’s a battle from the first time you cut slices from a Boston cream pie and one or the other says, “That’s bigger than mine!”
Somehow, sitting in the auditorium at Hamleyherst today, I got it. I glimpsed, for a moment, what it had all been for. Where once I took up the whole screen, now I’m just an inset in the corner. I’m not the loudest voice anymore, but they’ll hear me, in their hearts and heads. Even if Jake never once e-mails me in his four years of college — even if Marcy moves to Mexico and marries that boy — they can’t quit me. They were inside me once.
Now I’m inside them.