I don’t think I’m the only one who, as I get older, mark sections of my life by the milestones. You know: When I was in college. When I had my first job. Before marriage. Before the baby. After the baby. After the baby became the teenager. After…you get it. Usually, I tend to think about these milestones as just that–moments that, once they move into the past, become a dividing line between life sections. A line, as if the moment itself is only there for a second, a demarcation, but nothing else.
And then there are the times when you’re actually in the middle of a milestone, when it hasn’t yet become a line drawn in sand. (Or, if you’re anywhere near my age, a line drawn between two sides of a bedroom on The Brady Bunch. Oops–digression.) At this stage, a milestone feels much more like a transition.
Like this summer. We’re now on the countdown of less than a month before my son goes off for his first year of college. There are other events that I know, when I look back, will be those milestones I’ll build patterns around–my own going back to work full-time, the niece’s wedding we’re going to next month, the departure of one of my favorite cars (the very old, little red BMW). But the biggie is definitely my son leaving home. Who knows what the future holds, but the now–the right now–seems already full of befores and afters.
Before he leaves, we have (and will have):
- Shopped for dorm supplies.
- Bought him a new suit, the last one being purchased piecemeal for some friends’ Bar Mitzvahs way back in middle school, and this one being something he’ll wear at many jazz performances for the next few years. (And he’s holding onto the other as back-up!)
- Replaced the very old, little red BMW with a not-QUITE-as old, but pretty darned near, Volvo wagon, which will actually let him transport his bass and one or two other members of whatever combo he’s playing with. The drummer will have to get his equipment there some other way.
- Watched him clean out layers of history from the closets and drawers in his room, all the time knowing there will be more left to do later, but accepting what I get.
- Nagged at him a million times, hugged him another million, and wondered at times if there were actually enough huts to hold me till the first visit.
After he leaves, we will:
- Take a mini vacation before coming home to an empty nest.
- Get back and touch with each other, wife and husband, and the whole relationship that we have today, as opposed to “before the baby”
- Do some final tidying on his room and then pass his doorway a currently unimaginable number of times without going in.
- Stop buying “Ian food” at the grocery store, except for non-perishable foods to be sent in a care package.
- Struggle mightily and then reeducate ourselves with the TV or Wii remote don’t work, and we can’t get to where we want on Netflix.
- Feel the emptiness of that third seat at the theater as the next X-men, Avengers, Spiderman, Pixar, Shakespeare, fill-in-the-blank movie comes out.
- Send him first draft chapters or picture books that I just want him to read.
- Text and email silly funnies and (hopefully) get his version back in return.
- Wonder how, at the age that still feels so young, I got to the stage of being a Woman-Whose-Child-Is-Off-At-School. Wondering also who the heck that person even is? And being kind of happy and excited about finding out.
Yeah, those are the things on either side of the line. But today, this month, and for a few more weeks, I’m Mom in the Middle. In the middle of it all as it’s happening, experiencing a layer of something–a complication, an emotion, a passage? It’s there every single day, almost every single moment, even when we are doing everything the way we used to and not taking a single active step toward the way we will do it after.