I’m smack in the middling place. Middle America, middle class, middle age. I wear size middle. Lately I’ve come to realize I’m mid-cliche. I’m moving from cliche mommy to cliche mother of a college kid.
In my normally clouded life view, I am still young and vibrant, my life stretching endlessly ahead. And then I see the mothers of elementary school children and realize that they CANNOT RELATE TO ME, as I am the mother of a senior in high school. I’m baffled, because I fully relate to them. After all, my son was 10 just a few months ago (93 months, but let’s not dwell on numbers, shall we?). When those moments of clarity strike, sharp reality blinds my (I recently learned) cataract-ladened eyes and I squint at my wrinkling and spotted hands with wonder. David Byrne’s voice flits through my head … HOW DID I GET HERE?
I took my son to visit some universities this fall, as he considers the next phase of his life. I spent years of my young adulthood at two of the schools, and they felt foreign and welcoming all at the same time. I found myself walking past the dorms and dilapidated student houses, feeling that I should be back there with the students, filling a weekend with house parties, football and trips to the library. Somewhere, close enough to touch, I am still that college girl. The one who loves to dance and do tequila shots. The one who hasn’t a clue what her life will become and dances anyway.
I watch my son, as he absorbs this new world, and I am conflicted. Part of me is the toddler’s mom, who wants to keep him safe from the dangers that I know are there. Part of me is the serious, let’s-not-lose-sight-of-education, this-is-not-about-the-parties mom. I know that soon I will become the college kid’s mom. The one he rolls his eyes over when I send him 10 texts in a row because I haven’t heard from him in a week. The mom who takes him and his roommate to dinner and then leaves, thank you very much. But part of me is also his friend, who wants him to experience college the way it should be. I want him to love to dance (hopefully he doesn’t love shots too much …) and who hasn’t a clue what his life will become and dances anyway. I want him to explore and question and fall in love, to have a professor nudge him toward an interest he never even considered.
This is the process of unmommy-ing. We hear a lot about empty nest syndrome, but this is pre-empty nest. This is anticipating what the next phase will be, letting go of the roles that we each have played and learning new ones. This is hoping that we’ve taught him what he needs to know, because time is short. Soon he will know it all (and then, hopefully, at around age 25, he’ll realize he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did).
The other night, he told me about some incident at school. Later, when I’d crawled in bed, I panicked a little — had I ever shown him what to do in that circumstance? Did I need to tell him now? Never occurred to me … I made my way to his room and sat on his bed and told him what I thought he needed to hear. He smiled in a somewhat strange way and said, “Seriously? Why are you telling me this? Mom, don’t you think I figured that out already? Geesh, this is awkward. Can I just say, I’m so glad we never had the sex talk.” And then I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh. What is he telling me? Maybe I need to have a sex talk with him … I mean, what should I say? Is he expecting something profound? He did have health class, right”?
Let it go, I tell myself. We are in the middle.
Look where my hand was
Time isn’t holding up
Time is an asterisk
Same as it ever was…