Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Teaching Me How to Say Goodbye

Several years ago, when my son was still in high school, all four of us traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, to watch Rolex. My husband had just returned from a trip to Australia and was jet-lagged into complete unconsciousness in the back seat of the van. I started to climb into the driver's seat, but my son, who was 17, stopped me. "I'll drive to start," he offered.

I don't love driving, so I happily let him. The first part of the drive is straightforward local highways. Then it turns into curvy hilly local highways, then eventually interstate. It's about a five hour drive. Frequently I offered to take over, but my son waved me off. "Knit and talk to me," he said instead.

When we pulled into our hotel's parking lot my son turned to me and said, "Did I do a good job, Mom?"

"Yes," I said. I felt very proud of him. "You did a great job. You drove very well the whole way."

"So," he said, "You'll have no problem letting me drive to Charleston."

I realized I'd been played. Well played, mind you. My son and husband sometimes went to Charleston and my son liked to take lessons from a golf pro there. He'd been murmuring about going there by himself, now that he was a high school senior, and I'd been shutting him down. You are not old enough to drive all that way by yourself. Except that he'd just proven me wrong.

I've been thinking about that this summer, as my daughter sets about showing me that she, too, is ready to be on her own. She leaves for college next month. For the first time in 21 years I won't have day-to-day care for children in my house. I'll still be their mother, and I know they'll still need me--just yesterday my son, now 21 and interning in finance this summer--called to ask my advice about a plumbing problem. I've always encouraged my children to be independent. I made them responsible for lots of parts of their own lives, early and often. I haven't packed a suitcase for either of them since they were seven years old. I haven't done their laundry since they were 14. But I've loved being with them. They've grown into snarky, smart-mouthed, brilliant adults with strong opinions of their own, and good, trustworthy hearts, and I enjoy them so much right now. I don't wish them to stay--I want them to grow up as they should--but I didn't think they'd be leaving quite so soon.

We got back from our trip to Switzerland, with our daughter, at 7:30 at night. At 5:30 the next morning she left to teach at a riding camp several hours away. She packed herself, drove herself, got the job because she's already proven herself a good instructor, calm and patient and knowledgeable. She was gone a whole week. It was like practice for college, sort of. She managed crises and frightened small children and recalcitrant ponies.

She came home Sunday and this morning she left again. She's off to the United States' Pony Club's Eastern Championships, for something like the sixth year in a row, but the first year without me. She's not riding this year; she's stable manager for one of our region's eventing teams. She doesn't need me. She went to Target last night and came back with a new toothbrush (for scrubbing stirrup pads), a lint roller, wet wipes, a black polo shirt, and a whole bunch of other things. This morning she printed out all the custom stall cards she's made for her team, and she packed her car, and while I've been at Bristol Faith in Action, working my usual shift, she's driven to Johnson City, picked up a friend, and headed off to North Carolina.

Meanwhile I'll be here, practicing, learning the lessons my children are teaching me: that they really are ready to fly.