My middle son turns 21 today.
Tomorrow I will go back to muttering about politics and politicians and asinine remarks. I'm sure I'll scoff and sneer at stories coming out of the campaigns and write snarky tweets -maybe even a blog post!- and try to squeeze a full day's work into an afternoon. It will all be good.
But today I'm going to indulge myself in a bout of nostalgia and sentiment. I'm going to wallow for a moment or two and maybe even whine a wee bit.
The birthday boy is off at school and so there's no birthday cake to make or dinner to plan. I haven't had to juggle logistics of birthday parties. I haven't wracked my brain for something that's fun and interesting for him to unwrap in addition to the check he's too polite (and well brought up, ahem) to admit he prefers. This year, I just sent him a card and cash. Easy peasy, right?
Not so much.
I'm lost in uncharted waters. And, just as no one can adequately describe the effects of new baby sleep deprivation when you're 6 months pregnant and still know it all, so too can no one tell you how hard it is to move into this last phase of motherhood.
I've done my level best not to be a helicopter parent. I've cheered the milestones and nudged my children (sometimes, shoved) towards independence. My job as a mother, as I've seen it, was to get my children to the place where they don't need me anymore. I wanted to raise happy, healthy, kind, responsible, independent, engaged and ambitious sons. It's been my immediate priority for over 20 years.
So now what?
It's not that we ever stop being Mom. I'm grateful my adult sons call and ask for advice and counsel when they've had to make a big decision. More and more frequently, they let me know about their decisions after making them and that's okay, too. Every once in a while, I've gotten the "I'm just having a bad day" phone call and I'm overwhelmed they trust me enough to be able to vent. I like to think it means I've done a good job.
When the nurse handed me my son, wrapped up in a blanket and heartstoppingly beautiful, I went into protect and provide mode. Ear infections, rotoviruses (oh, those wonderful cesspool years of preschool) and bloody towels ('I think you might need a few stitches there, bubba.'). We've survived the drama of not making a team and interesting parent-teacher conferences and GIRLS and navigating the bone-chilling years of learning to drive and pounding responsibility into an adolescent, testosterone-challenged brain.
I've successfully navigated all the stages of parenthood but this one.
On the one hand, it's nice to be able to devote more time to my own goals and aspirations. It's nice not to have to do approximately ten thousand loads of laundry a day. My calendar isn't as crazed; I'm probably losing my ability to be in two places at one time. With my two eldest boys living their own lives, I only have my youngest to worry about on a daily basis. After those long years of three active boys, one is a snap.
But it's weird to have this freedom. It's like seeing clothes from college that are back in style again and discovering your tastes have changed. And I'm way too old to wear a skirt that short again, thank you very much. Sometimes it feels as if I'm coming down from an adrenaline high. Life has been flying by at warp speed for so long that this sudden slowing is jarring.
The truth is, I have no good words to explain this. I just don't.
When the birthday boy was born 21 years ago, it seemed as if his adulthood stretched impossibly far into the future. My days were filled with diapers and toys and play dates and PTA and hockey and baseball and Legos and toy soldiers and BRIO trains and sibling fights and sleepovers and lots of arguments about "being old enough." And the joy of his senior year of high school, when every decision was THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE I'LL EVER MAKE, MOM.
I prepared him for being adult, but I didn't prepare myself. Maybe we never do, or maybe some parents are just better at this than I. It's not that I want to go back in time, or (God forbid) for him to be dependent on me, or needy. I'm proud and excited for the new stage of his life, and I'm cheering his success from the sidelines. I just miss those sweet days when my big boys needed their mommy.
I didn't understand how fleeting the years of having their sweet, small arms wrap around my neck would be. I was proud I wasn't the mom who cried on the first day of kindergarten. I cherished my non-helicoptering ways and prided myself on our lack of separation anxiety.
Apparently, I just delayed it for myself.
I asked my mom how she felt when I left home. 'It was kind of strange for a while,' she said, 'but then your father and I got used to it and enjoyed being able to do what we wanted. After a while, there were grandchildren, and that was good.'
Hmmm. I can wait on the grandparent part.