This might be the hardest

Midlife Sentence | empty nest, leaving, moving out

For someone who has such a crappy memory, I remember pretty vividly that time I was late in my third trimester with our first son, feeling ginormous and crabby. Summer was coming, friends were gathering for an outdoor concert in the lovely late spring weather and I, too tired to go out, bloated, with a bladder squished to the size of a peanut, wondered how forty weeks could seem like such a long time.

This was just the worst.

Then we were bringing home our baby, all 8 pounds and 21 inches of never-seemed-so-small and me huddled in the back of our car. I rode, holding his head steady in the impossibly large baby carrier, wondering what would happen if he just stopped breathing in the middle of the night, or failed to thrive, or to develop the muscle tone necessary to ever hold up his head, or the ability to reach out and grasp and learn. Or how terrible it would be if he came down with some horrible disease and we had to watch him suffer.

I took him to work with me, the first in our office to try out our new baby-friendly policy. I tried to breastfeed discretely in staff meetings at first, but after a while I didn’t care who saw my bare boob because I had carted in seven carloads of baby gear that morning like I did every morning and would lug it out that evening like I did every evening, with him in a carrier on my chest. I was perpetually exhausted and covered in spit up and not getting anything done and sometimes I wondered if my back would snap right in two.

Forget pregnancy, this was the hardest.

Then he was weaned because I had a business trip coming up and it was okay for him and convenient for me. After a couple of years his brother came along, and there were nights we had both of them in bed with us, needing to feel us near in order to sleep through night terrors and feedings, with that restless kicky toddler sleep that make peaceful nights for parents impossible. Someone would, inevitably, move out to the sofa just before dawn for a few minutes of shut-eye.

We questioned ourselves at every step, like the time of that one colossal melt down in the foyer over some stupid thing or another and we had to say “well, with that behavior you can’t spend the weekend at grandma and grandpa’s,” and stuck to our guns, even though there was nothing else in the world we wanted more than to ship the kid off to the land of Saturday morning snuggles, sugar cereal, and cartoons so we could have some time to ourselves.

And then later, when I’d spend hours at the kitchen table, drilling him on spelling, cajoling him into completing those word-search puzzles he always hated, snapping my fingers to get him to pay attention to the paper, searching Google to remind myself of fifth-grade math. What were integers again? He was usually a good sport … if easily distracted. Still, long hours with no progress would render both of us so frustrated we were crying by dinner. He wondered why I was so mean. I wondered what would happen if he never got into college.

I’d never, ever had the experience of working so hard for anything I wanted …. and failing.

Failing as a mom. As a person. Failing him. That was the hardest.

Later we found a school that worked for him, one that was pricey and a long drive away, but it was worth it to put the long afternoons crying at the kitchen table behind us. All at once those were gone, just like the sleepless nights, and the pre- and postnatal fatigue. Little by little things didn’t feel so hard anymore. The hardest things left without any one of us thinking to mark their passing.

There were other things. Hard, too, but more like jabs, here and there, to make sure we we remembered we were parents. But we were better rested, ready to take them on.

Like that time he totaled his car, and came out unscathed, but never ever asked again whether I thought he was one of the better drivers I’d ever encountered.

There was the year he left us to study abroad.

There was his coming back, puffed up, full of the world. Gandalf, his brother called him (I told him to shush).

He’s been here, one more year, but also pulling away. Ours again, but sometimes only in name. Reinventing himself. Impatient for what’s next. Pulling and pushing, and sometimes making us want him to be off already, as is the way of such things.

That’s been hard, too.

Having him ask me for recipes, because he’ll have his own kitchen instead of a cafeteria, that felt like one of those reminder jabs, one that was deep and unexpected. A sudden realization that life was about to get very different both for him and for us.

Uncomfortable sure, and unwelcome, but not hard. Not like things used to be.

In a little fewer than three weeks I’ll help him move into his dorm. We’ll buy properly sized sheets and fill up his kitchenette  with whatever groceries and utensils he needs. Maybe he’ll let me help him register. Set up a bank account. Buy a cell plan and a bike and a helmet I hope he’ll wear.

We’ll explore his new town for a bit and then say our goodbyes.

That will probably be hard. I try not to think about it.

At one point, he was all slimy arms and legs, when he lay on my stomach, and we looked at each other for the first time, neither of us having any idea what we were in for.

And I’m just now realizing I still don’t.

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  1. Reminds me of a column your dad wrote about being a parent when he was editor of the Idaho Register which I think I kept but will have to look for it. Both you and Heather have inherited his skill with the language.