My sweet friend Heather recently dropped off her firstborn child at Smith College in Massachusetts. She’s a mess, of course, and deeply sentimental about this passage. Even though it’s a grand thing altogether that Sophie was accepted into such a magnificent university, and her future looks stunningly bright, Heather’s life as she knows it and loves it is over.
Checking out dozens of back-to-school pics on Facebook these last two weeks (especially today), it’s not hard for me to make the leap from dropping a child off at college many states away to dropping them off at the entranceways of their new school years.
Each year is new beginning, a doorway further down that cosmic corridor that leads our sons and daughters away from home and towards adult autonomy.
(Cue headline: “Mother Clamps Herself to College-Bound Son’s Leg Like a Marine Gastropod; Son: “You Promised You Wouldn’t Do This!”)
Even Anne of Green Gables struggled with these passages. I found this jewel while reading “Anne of Ingleside,” Book # 6 in the AoGG series:
“What a happy summer this has been…the same summer will never be coming twice….Never quite the same. Another summer would come..but the children would be a little older and Rilla would be going to school…’and I’ll have no baby left,'” Anne thought sadly. “Jem was 12 now and there was talk of ‘the Entrance’…Jem who but yesterday had been a wee baby in the old House of Dreams. Walter was shooting up and that very morning she heard Nan teasing Di about some ‘boy’ in school and Di had actually blushed and tossed her red head. Well, that was life. Gladness and pain…hope and fear…and change. Always change! You could not help it. You had to let the old go and take the new to your heart…learn to love it and then let it go in the spring.”
Always change! You could not help it.
I have two years before Jonah goes off to college (he might even stay here for college. We just don’t know yet). I have five years before Ezra leaves, and nine whopping years before Phoebe leaves. Time is on my side. But as they say, and as I’ve said before here, the days are long and the years are short. Wasn’t I receiving this masterpiece from a tow-headed four-year-old last week?
Now he’s sixteen. He drives. He shaves. He grunts.
He does not cuddle anymore; his embraces are sort of clunky bro hugs. I do not take him to the park. Even playing disc golf with him is out of the question because I can’t stand the mockery.
(Okay, so I sometimes fling the disc behind me accidentally. I have the aim of a Stormtrooper.)
I still give him his food, though. There’s that. Although, “Mom, there’s no milk” is probably the #1 sentence he utters to me on a regular basis. I’m close to strapping a bucket of milk to his head.
My point is this: Back to school is a reminder that things are not always going to be the same at my house or yours. It’s a rumble of the seismic shifts ahead, no matter how faint they may be.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: Part of me is kind of ecstatic about this eight hours to myself business. A big part of me, actually.
Working at home during the summer I got about 18% done of what I wanted to. I aspire to be the kind of mom who has a real summer with her cherubs. I also aspire to finish my work-in-progress on deadline, which was pretty much a joke these last three months.
So, I’m happy, relieved, and–oh sweet molasses!–READY for school to begin again.
But I still feel those rumbles of the changes coming for us all just around the corner.
Back to Heather and Sophie. Heather is a self-confessed “flipping Little House on the Prairie nerd.” She jokes that there is a suitable LHOTP passage for every conceivable life event. And she found one to fit how she felt on her last night before her and her husband took Sophie to college.
It’s from the chapter called “Mary goes to College” in “Little Town on the Prairie.”
“Pa and Ma and Mary did not look back. They had to go. The wagon taking them away left silence behind it. Laura had never felt such a stillness. It was not the happy stillness of the prairie. She felt it in the very pit of her stomach . . . That silence had settled into the house. It was so still that Laura felt she must whisper. Grace smothered a whimpering. They stood there in their own house and felt nothing around them but silence and emptiness. Mary was gone.”
Life as Ma, Pa, Laura and Carrie and Grace knew it was over.
Heather took a cue from the Ingalls girls and cleaned like a madwoman, as they did, to cope. This will never be my preferred method of coping, but then again, the house looks pretty good today. There was a stillness here today, and an emptiness. I felt unmistakable tremors of things and changes to come.
So, let us defer to Rob Lowe (sorry, did I give you whiplash?).
I would be remiss if I didn’t invoke Rob Lowe at this time, because don’t all our thoughts spring immediately to Rob Lowe when thinking of calico dresses and churning butter in log cabins?
The man is a stinking sensei of the craft of writing. In an essay called “Unprepared,” taken from his latest memoir “Love Life,” Lowe ponders his firstborn leaving, like Sophie, for a college far away from home. He links his feelings now to when he was a child, and was forced to split time between his newly divorced parents:
“When I was a boy, I had to leave my friends in the summer, just as Malibu was becoming Malibu, say goodbye to my first girlfriend and go to Ohio to stay with my dad. There is a little of that sense memory at play too, a feeling that I’m about to be left out of important events, separated from life as I know it, the world as I love it.”
Back-to-school: Sharpening pencils, filling and zipping backpacks, signing more documents than a notary public for a solid week. It’s all these things and so much more. There’s the great push, the busyness of launching a new year. And there are rumbles of a changing world, getting louder and louder.
Every year, when we separate from our littles and our mediums and our shaggy-chinned bro-huggers, we’re also beginning to separate from life as we know it. We’re one step closer in the process of undoing, detaching, and disconnecting from the world as we love it.
And therein lies the rub.
But I still have two years left before Quake #1. I better go buy some milk.
How are YOU doing re: back-to-school? Thrilled? Desolate? Any and all responses are acceptable.