Earlier this week, I was lying in bed, at o’dark something-or-other, trying to clear my head.
“You’re awake aren’t you?” Mike said.
Yup. We haven’t been getting a lot of sleep around here.
We went out to the living room and Jack was there, on the couch with a quilt, scrolling through his phone. He’d been up all night cleaning and sorting, and now his room was too empty to sleep in.
Today, he took his 50 lb. suitcase, a file of instructions and itineraries, 200 potato pins, and a book about his life in Idaho we’d made for him to show his host families while he’s on exchange, and boarded a plane. We’ll next see him again in person in eleven months.
People have been asking us how we’re dealing with his departure, and for the most part I’ve been Scarlett O’Hara-ing the whole thing, saying that I’d think about that tomorrow.
Well, today is “tomorrow,” and I’m still not actually sure what I’m thinking.
I’m mostly kind of stunned. And I’ve been here and watched him turn into an almost grown-up, so I don’t have a right to be.
It must be some sort of trick of perception, or maybe a sign I’m getting old that has compressed this whole parenting thing into three distinct stages:
Stage one: Someone’s ALWAYS touching me, or crawling into bed with me, or following me into the bathroom, or yelling “mom, watch this!” while I feign interest. There are also intervals of heart-string-tugging cuteness and photo ops and first-time evers.
… And throughout the whole thing there’s more poop than anyone could ever have imagined.
Stage two: The salad days of parenting. And the most fleeting. The kid’s capable of a little independence, but still unable to drive. Gone are the expensive babysitters and the anxiety that someone will choke on a random Lego. Modesty sets in and I’m no longer followed into the bathroom.
Everyone can be relied upon to wear pants when it’s appropriate. More or less.
Stage three: The emotions. The hormones. The grandiose plans. The procrastinating. A simple “how are you” on any given day could result in a long conversation or a “why are you always on my case?”
Oh, and “can I take the car?”
And then, just like that, poof. They’re gone. And I’m just standing here with a very vivid memory of that feeling we had when we brought him home from the hospital.
This whole baby thing is nice and all, but when are this kid’s parents going to take him off our hands?
So, now he’s in the “poof” stage and I’m feel like we only just survived Stage One, where someone’s hanging off me like a conjoined twin. When I’m old and infirm and can’t remember anything else, Stage One, to my recollection, will be the sum total of my parenting experience.
Of course, we’ll miss him. If he’s doing well, he won’t call for weeks, other than to tell us he made it. The thought that tomorrow he won’t be here is a smack upside the head and then a hollowness right in my gut.
But it’s more than that. I’m anxious. Will he behave? Will he fall in with a good group of people who will bring out his best, or a bunch of hooligans who’ll send him home tattooed and surly? Will his host family be patient? Will he be diligent in his Danish, or let people practice English on him enough that he never becomes fluent? Will he miss us so much he can’t cope, or return home exasperated with our pedestrian ways?
He’ll still be ours, but he won’t be the same.
A little while ago, we found a note in his passport holder. Someone must have put it there when we sent him to the Danish consulate in June to get his Visa.
For weeks he and I have been jabbing each other about this day:
“You’re going to lose it in the airport.”
“Well, you’re going to be a big puddle of goo.”
“You’re going to cry so hard you can’t breathe.”
“We’ll have to call you a WHAA-mbulance.”
Whatever. He and I are both criers and we know it. His brother and dad, meanwhile have some sort of anti-cry superpower. We wonder if they’re alien sometimes.
There’s a thing the note writer probably didn’t know. If you’re a crier, you can’t just turn it on and off at will. If you tamp it down, it’ll turn into an ugly cry and then people will stop and stare at you like you just grew horns or something.
Well, he managed not to cry, which is more than I can say for myself. At least it wasn’t ugly. I don’t even try.
And from him, we got this show of bravado, which actually helped.
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