This morning, my fourteen year old son returned from his 8th grade trip to our nation’s capitol. I missed him. Along with many other moms, we all placed our children on monstrous buses last week in the wee hours of a Wednesday morning. It was a bit surreal to wave good-bye to him. Armed with snacks, a good hat, one suitcase, and his phone he was joking around with his buddies and jockeying his position for the best bus seat… if that actually exists. I stood on the middle school sidewalk making small talk with other distracted moms and tried to act like it was no big deal. We do this weird thing, us moms: we act like embarrassing our young teenagers might tear a jagged rip in the fabric of the sail we are now using to navigate this new stage of our relationship. Instead, we mete out our hugs, “I love yous,” and reminders carefully. We take big breaths and say things like, “Well, I’m sure they’ll have a great time!” and “It’s going to be pretty quiet around our house this next week!” We make pretend dates to have coffee. Then we all resolutely climb into our minivans, still looking to see if we can see one more glimpse of the back of the greyhound bus as it disappears.
There’s an imaginary force field around us that prevents us from running to our children, crying and begging them to be little again — thank goodness. In fact, we know this is only the beginning of all the good-byes yet to come. We also know that if we actually acted on those deeply buried instincts… well, that would be weird. We know they are supposed to grow up, to complete rites of passage, to rebel, to goof up, to push us away at times, and to… well… leave. It’s just that it’s really painful. And here’s the thing… just last week, I was swearing under my breath about the seemingly constant process of picking up balled-up dirty socks, water bottles, and all the randomness that seems to leave a well worn path behind him.
But today was the day. The day I finally got to stand on that same sidewalk and feel my heart flutter a bit as the first bus pulled into the school drive. Less than a week has lapsed. I watched as all the kids disembarked looking wrinkled, tired, hungry…. and just a bit older. There he was – I finally spied the top of his head and just for an instant, I wanted to run and pick him up and kiss him on the cheek. Thankfully, good sense took over, and I cooly stood back until he found his luggage. I finally nudged my way into the sea of 8th graders milling around the luggage compartment of the bus, and gave him an appropriate hug. I missed that guy. That sock-leaving, water bottle stashing, trail-leaving guy.
Surprisingly, our meeting was very similar to the days of picking him up from daycare: he told me a few high points from his trip, he politely asked for a sandwich, I made him something to eat and watched him gobble it up, and he’s now down for his nap. The only difference — in those days, I did pick him up, kiss his cheek, and even sang a song to him while I stuffed him into his jacket… and never worried about embarrassing him. In those days, our boat was just pulling away from the dock – no need for a sail…