Posted by Melanie
Hi! This is my first post over here at Mid-Century Moms, so I'm very excited. So excited, I almost squealed, which would have then awakened my still-slumbering college freshman, home for his long Christmas break. And that would have been a fatal mistake.
Everybody talks about surviving the Empty Nest. And I'm here to tell you, it was very tough sending my firstborn off to college. When we dropped him off, I almost felt as if I'd never see him again; I just couldn't imagine how he would fit in our lives if he wasn't living in our house. The emptiness of that house when we came home! The strangely clean bedroom, one less place at dinner, one less schedule to have to keep track of - it was all so hard. I'm one of those creatures who has loved being a stay-at-home mom. I've thrived on the power trip, to tell the truth. And so it really hit me hard when he left.
But I adjusted. Surprisingly quick. One moment I was clutching his comforter, sobbing; the next, I was enjoying getting to know my remaining son in an entirely different way, adjusting to the different, slightly calmer, rhythm of a house with an only child.
Then my son came home again.
His college, you see, is on an odd schedule. Quarters instead of semesters, and the 2nd quarter, between Thanksgiving and January 1st, is mainly for grad students. So my son finished his finals a couple of weeks ago, threw his valuables -i.e., his videogame systems - into a bag, along with all his dirty laundry, and came home.
At first, of course, I was thrilled. We've seen him enough, since he left, that I now know he's still part of our family, even when he's not always under our roof. So I looked forward to him coming home for a visit without worrying about crumbling again when he left. I also looked forward to just talking with him, enjoying his company, because he's such a funny, interesting young man. And of course, I looked forward to all the holiday traditions we could continue, due to this long break.
I didn't look forward, though, to the mess, the sleeping late, the power struggle I knew would happen between brothers whose relationship has shifted, just a bit. The younger one is now used to being top dog around here. The older one - the former number one canine - assumes he will continue in that position. They're good friends, good brothers - but there have been incidents. (Mainly concerning their shared bathroom; don't ever assume teenaged girls have more personal care items than teenaged boys.)
I also didn't look forward to being back on call as "Mom" again, full time, my beloved tyrant clapping his hands and expecting, well - everything. Clean clothes, fresh cookies, every whim catered to. I'm working on a new book, and I have found ways to fill up the emptiness that so overwhelmed me when he left. I wasn't eager to put it all on hold for six weeks.
The interesting thing, though, is I haven't had to.
What has struck me the most about this visit, this first extended visit home from college, is how my son is obviously straddling that sometimes wide, sometimes narrow divide between childhood and adulthood. It's a bit like living with someone with multiple personalities; one minute he absolutely wants me to take care of him; the next minute, I'm told to "not be such a Mom." While this isn't completely different from the way things were before he left (after all, an 18-year-old is still an 18-year-old, whether he's going to senior prom or moving into a college dorm), there are some new twists.
He still takes my car without really asking (he has a part time job near campus, which is a moderate commute from here). But he also fills it up without me asking, because "I'm the one putting all the miles on it," he told me. Very sweetly.
He still wants me to cook him all his favorite meals. But he also sits in the kitchen watching me, writing everything down, asking questions "Because I want to learn how to cook. I'm tired of eating Ramen noodles at school."
He still wants to sleep in. But he doesn't assume I will make him breakfast when he finally does emerge from his lair.
He still assumes clean clothes will automatically appear, freshly folded, on his bed. But - well, actually, there's no difference there. Even when he's at school, he exhibits that strange male indifference to understanding the mysterious ways of the washing machine.
In short, if it's possible, he's become considerately demanding. Whereas, before, he was - as most teenagers are - simply demanding. But going to college has instilled in him a new awareness of other people, of a world larger than himself. And - Hallelujah! - this has extended to include his family. We're still his parents, his annoying younger brother. But we're also people with our own schedules and needs; we exist without him. Our world didn't just freeze in time, waiting for his return. And I have to think that because it didn't, because he saw that we continued on, moving forward when he left, he's able to respect us more, be so considerate, now that he's home.
Are we still family? Always, I know that. Friends? That, too.
Respectful adults? That's the surprising one. The one that just tickles me. The aspect of our relationship I couldn't have anticipated.
So we continue to navigate this new phase of our lives, all of us. It's just now dawning on me that my relationship with my adult children will be much longer than my relationship with them as infants, toddlers, school children. We can't begin to comprehend that when we bring them home from the hospital.
But when we bring them home from college for the first time, we suddenly get it. This is how it's going to be for the rest of our lives; this strange, respectful dance between parent and child, friends, adults. And now is when it begins.
I know it's still early; I know that there's still plenty of time to step on each other's feet.
But all in all, I think we're off to a good start.
(Although I can't help but think it will be a much more pleasant dance once he learns to operate that frustratingly difficult washing machine!)