I've just returned from a long weekend trip with my 16-year-old son. It was just the two of us.
We've made several of these trips over the years, but none before had felt so *delicate* -- like a beautiful soap bubble, reflecting watercolor-like images of us. Knowing it would probably be the last -- or at least the penultimate -- trip before his life changes dramatically: junior year, getting a job, going to college....
Our trips would drive others mad. We don't plan anything. We pack books, crazy card games and comfy clothes. We don't set alarms and we don't make reservations (except for a room). We pack swimsuits, just in case. We might load the bikes onto the car rack like we did for this trip even though the weather forecast was icky (and it turns out we never did get to ride them). We buy junk food. We watch movies. We sleep until we wake up. We talk. We're quiet together.
We drive, and drive, and drive a long way from our home for these trips. Once we even flew. The unspoken rule is that it needs to be a place on the water. Any body of water. And it needs to be just the two of us.
These trips don't happen every year, but as he gets older I want a bajillion more of them! What makes them so special to me is that he WANTS to go. Not only that, Z is always the one who brings it up. And he made my heart sing when he asked a month ago if he and I could take one of our trips.
This year, Z did ALL the driving. The six hours up to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, in and around the quaint towns, and back home again. I must have looked to my left at the young man driving a thousand times that trip, and all I could think was "It used to be me driving him around..."
Z and I have always been close. It's been the two of us for most of his young life. I am his constant. No matter what or who comes and goes from his life, he knows he is stuck with me. I've made sure he knows that. Always and forever.
He still talks to me about all manner of things going on in his life, including crushes and periods of uncertainty. He still asks me questions about sex, and what girls like best about boys. He listens carefully and intently when we talk about "no means no for anyone saying it" and that mutual respect is a key to any healthy relationship. He listens and asks more questions when I tell him integrity is the quality I value most in my friendships and other relationships. He asks what integrity envelopes, and we talk about what it means when someone calls him a "young man of integrity." I tell him first of all, I think it may be the greatest compliment anyone can ever give him. Then I tell him I hope he always strives to be a man of integrity. Always and forever.
But those conversations are for at home. On our trips, it's nothing heavy, nothing earth-shattering. We catch up with the little things. He asks about the book I'm reading; I ask about how everyone at the lunch table is doing. We talk about music. We talk about cars (well, he talks, I listen). Sometimes we don't talk at all and are just *together*. We play card games that devolve into mild smack talk and laughter so hearty our sides-ache-our-eyes-water-and-we-can't-breathe-together. We breathe. We just are together.
Z is an adventurous kid. He loved preschool the moment I dropped him off. When I mentioned summer sleep away camp one spring, thinking he might want to talk about it later, he asked how soon he could leave. He was eight years old (fortunately, the camp we chose had an opening that summer). It's three-weeks long and seven hours away. He's gone every summer but one ever since.
He's a genuinely nice person, and makes friends easily -- both boys and girls. His friends are nice people, too, and as they all get older (and get driver's licenses) they are off doing more things away from us parents. He is working on earning money for his French Club trip to Paris next spring -- he'll make it to France before I do. He has no qualms about going away to college. He is already planning his semester studying in Europe. And he talks about living abroad to work on his graduate degrees.
All of these milestones, all of these "venturing outings" are amazing and awesome to him. He knows he's lucky to get to do a lot of the things he does (and I will strive to make sure he can). He has no fear. I love watching him spread his wings and fly!
It also breaks my heart a little bit more each time he flies a little further.
This year is his junior high school year. God help me. I'm just not ready for that and I know it. As long as he's ready though, it'll all be good.
And if I get one more trip - one more lazy, perfect trip with Z before he flies off to find his future, I'll be thrilled. In the meantime, I have all the memories of trips past to cherish. And if this was the last of them, then it will be enough.
Always and forever.