He walked into the kitchen, and it took a moment for my brain to process that something was different... to understand why his expression reminded me of when he was a baby and why his cheeks looked so pink. And when I did, I teared up. I'm not sure who was more surprised at my reaction, me or him.
My youngest son, the boy who spent his childhood laughing and entertaining our family, who grew more introverted and serious throughout his teenage years -- he shaved off his beard. The beard that that he'd worn for nearly a year and that seemed to age him overnight. And just like that, the boy I remembered was back and standing right in front of me. He'd probably been thinking about shaving it off for weeks, then woke up and did it, without a word to anyone -- his spontaneity being one of the things I love about him and worry about the most. So there he was, waiting for me to notice, and in that instant, he became my baby again, playful and mischievous. My baby who is not really a baby, who's headed off to college in a matter of weeks.
And so I cried.
I know. Buck up, you say, that's how it works. You raise your kids to be independent, then they move away -- head to college, or start a career. I should be happy he's not staying at home, doing nothing. And I am, of course.
But let's be honest -- it's a process, this separation thing. For both the parent and (former) child. It took 18-plus years to get here, and by here I mean to the point in parenting when all the many stages of child-rearing and growing up have been crossed off the list. All the predictable stages, regardless of how individual they may have been: from a child's first laugh, first word, first step... the braces, illnesses, wisdom teeth... the wins and losses, driver's tests, dates... the SATs, the college applications, and straight on through to that final day when they wear their cap and gown.
There's a trunkful of memories. A wealth of nuances, family experiences, words, and laughter. So many stories that are by themselves unremarkable, but together are meaningful and the story of our lives so far. And yes, there are more to come. But not the same kind of stories, in the same house, with the same dynamic -- each of us in our set role, before we make the big shift, to the future us.
So no, I don't want to buck up. Not yet. Give me time. And I'll do the same for you -- all you parents in the same stage of life.
Will you share your favorite memory here with me? With us, with each other? I've posted a picture of one of mine.
I'd love to hear one of yours.
After all, just because they're becoming adults doesn't mean they're not still our babies.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.