Last year at this time, I was making lists, circling important dates on the calendar, stressing over meal plans (how many times a day will he need to eat?!) while also purchasing bedding and towels and toiletries and text books and boatloads of pens and pencils (because he couldn't go buy more?) and paper and everything I could possibly think of that my baby bird might need as he flew from the nest to go land all of two miles away from home where I could have easily brought him anything that we might have forgotten. There is a good chance he would have been able to ascend Mt. Everest with all of the provisions I sent him off with.
We were prepared.
Yesterday, Jack and I had the following conversation when we crossed paths in the kitchen:
Me: Are you still here?
Jack: It seems like it.
Me: Do you actually know when you are supposed to be at school? Because I haven't looked at the school calendar.
Jack: Yeah, I'm pretty sure.
Me: Like, do you know your actual move-in date?
Jack: Yeah, the 26th.
Me: Oh, okay good. So....do you need anything? Stuff for your room? Does anything from last year need to be replaced? Should we go shopping for... anything?
Jack: Nah... I'm good.
Can you tell we are headed for a highly warm, fuzzy and tearful goodbye?
Since this whole writing exercise started as a way for me to process how best to prepare my children (and really, let's face it, me) for their inevitable departure from our loving home, I feel like it is only fair to warn those of you who are just now launching your firstborn, or anticipating launching your firstborn in the near future, that the first flight out of the nest is only the beginning.
Because, you see, in most cases, they may fly away for a little while...but they aren't really gone gone yet. For most of us mama and papa birds, these are still just test flights for our baby birds. They are spreading their wings, going farther and staying away longer than they ever have before but...for most of us...at semi-regular intervals...our baby birds come flying back.
Vacations. Holidays. Maybe weekends. Summer. Right about the time you finally start getting used to the change in dynamics that comes with having one less member of the household that giant, messy, food-eating, leaves-his-Starbucks-cups-everywhere man-child will come strolling back in again.
And in some ways it's the same as it always was, which is great and fun and happy, and in some ways it is totally different now.
See, this baby bird is not the same baby bird you booted out of the nest a year ago. This baby bird has been living life more or less on his own terms for the past nine+ months. This baby bird hasn't heard the word "curfew" in what feels like a lifetime, or had to "check-in", or been asked to leave a note as to where he might be going and when he might be back. This baby bird has been flying solo, People, and there's no clipping his wings now.
A year ago Jack and his friends wanted to take a road trip to California. We said, 'no.' It was too far. They had never done anything like that before. We told our son that he needed to start smaller, build trust, and then we will see. So, they didn't go. The trip was limited to the Washington/Oregon coast and all was well.
It isn't that having them come home isn't wonderful. It is. We miss Jack when he's gone and we all love the energy and stories and laughter he brings when he returns. We love his presence. But we have also grown more and more accustomed to his absence. We have established a "new normal" when he is gone. So when he comes bursting back in (And I swear trumpets sound when he comes through the door. Seriously, the fanfare of that kid...) everyone has to find their bearings again. And none more so than the parents who are having to learn how to live with a child who still has one foot in childhood while the other foot is inching closer and closer to adulthood.
We discovered that the first summer home is when you negotiate new boundaries. You have discussions about the kinds of things you do simply out of courtesy to the people who care about you, not because you have to. You figure out where to give some latitude and where to draw new lines. And, hopefully, everyone can do this peacefully knowing we are all on the same side.
You end up having text conversations like this:
And you learn not to wait up anymore because we are not all 19 and actually do require normal amounts of sleep.
None of this is bad. It really isn't.
It's just another transition.
And like the first initial launch, it can be both thrilling and sad.
But this is what all of those years of mothering and parenting and loving and scolding and training and hoping and worrying and wishing have been about. They have been about raising a child, your child, to become an adult. Eventually. Step by step.
Mine is not there yet, and that's okay. There is still time. In fact, I'm glad we still have some time.
But this summer I have seen glimpses of the adult he is becoming and while I fear he is destined to live in squalor surrounded by his empty glasses and soda cans, I am also very proud of the man he is becoming (for other reasons unrelated to his housekeeping skills).
So, this is my message of encouragement to all of the moms and dads watching their baby birds take their first flight out of the nest this fall. I see you as you wipe the tears from your eyes and wonder how the house suddenly got so quiet. I feel your anxiety. I hear your hopes and dreams even as they are mixed with worry and concern. I am with you completely.
I know it's hard.
But try to remember, they will fly back again.
And that will be even harder. :-)