Posted in College, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

What’s Next?

My oldest son turns 18 today so this becomes my first post in a brand new chapter of posts on the Empty(ing) Nest Diary.

Photo from his first vacation. Without us.
Photo from his first vacation. Without us.

Only I don’t know what to call this chapter…

Parenting Adults

That seems misdirected.

Adult Children

Ominous.

????

It’s odd to think that the seed for this Empty(ing) Nest blog was planted in the hours after my son was born when I reached down in the shower to wrap my arms around a hollow belly.

A month later, I realized the immensity of the separation that stretched out before us.

But those moments of prescience were obscured by years, and months, and days, and hours–of devotion and attention and connection–and BIG LOVE.

This morning, the birthday boy and his girlfriend read through the tiny hand-bound book of quotes that I recorded from the mouth of that preschooler who heads to college next week.

“Wow, parenting a teenager must be awful!” my son said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, feigning confusion.

“It sounds like I really liked you when I was little.”

“Yep,” I said.

He took his girlfriend’s hand and headed up the stairs, and I put on some blues…

The thrill is gone

The thrill is gone away for good…

Free, free, free now baby…

I’m free for good.

Now that’s it all over,

All I can do is wish you well.

Who knew that the blues could speak to mothers, but they do…

I tried to get a head start on this empty nest thing years ago when my son first entered adolescence. I thought if I wrote about it, ahead of it all,  it would be easier, like having an epidural.  But 47 posts on Teens later, I still feel the pain of this impending separation.

I feel it when I shop for his toiletries. I feel it when I kiss him goodnight. I feel it when I look at his younger brother, who has just turned 13 himself.

It’s too early to pour a glass of chardonnay so I turn toward the issue of laundry. My 18 year old’s laundry. At college.

For days now, I’ve been plagued with worry…

What kind of laundry basket should he have at school?

What would serve as an inviting receptacle, and also a means of transport to the laundry room, and then back again, folded, to be placed in drawers?

This preoccupation of mine is odd for so many reasons, but mainly because:

I stopped doing my son’s laundry when he was 5,

and because my son currently leaves his clothes strewn across the floor,

washes them only when he needs underwear,

(or when he can’t afford to buy any more shirts,)

and then leaves his clean laundry in the washer–for hours,

followed by the dryer–for days,

Until it is coaxed along by strident parental pleas,

after which he leaves it in the laundry basket,

Until someone else needs the basket,

and grumbling, dumps the laundry on his bed,

Where it Remains…

Until it slides back onto the floor

Whence it came.

“Why don’t we wait until I get there and see what I works?” my son says.

He was always practical like this, even as a toddler. (It’s annoying.)

I’ll never forget the first time he called me on my parental misguided-ness:

Why do you want to yell about sneakers?

I hear the keys jingle by the door, so I stop him to ask:

“Where are you off to?”

“To get a lottery ticket,” he says.

I join in on brainstorming a list of all the other things he can in town now that he’s 18:

Buy cigars

Shop at  Life’s Little Luxuries

Enter the adult section of the video store

Be charged as adult for a crime

“I should have done something bad yesterday when I was still 17,” he said.

“Don’t forget to vote,” I add, as he heads out the door.

As much as I’ve loved this kid, I don’t want to Parent an Adult or know an Adult Child; so I think I’ll stay open to what this new chapter brings.

Kelly Salasin, August 15, 2013

Note: This is the first post in the “What’s Next?” Category.

Advertisements
Posted in Fragile Life

Sea of Miracles

for Jesse and Susannah

“And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.”

Walt Whitman

I want to write about miracles, but I don’t know how. There must be some outstanding event from my blessed life to retell, but no single moment splashes up for attention. Has my life been without the miraculous? Indeed, no. It has been so flooded with miracles that I cannot distinguish a single one… until I take what comes.

This past winter, a young friend of ours died of Leukemia. His name was Jesse and he was 19 years old. My family and I rode out the month of December with him in prayers and rituals and tears.

Tucked under our Christmas tree was a book entitled, The Way WE Work. Driven to comprehend blood and bone marrow as Jesse’s deteriorated, our bedtime reading ritual was heightened. We delved into a greater understanding of this amazing human body, and I was struck- STRUCK- by how absolutely miraculous our bodies are. In comparison, the miracle of Jesse’s recovery seemed a simple request.

When we got word, just after the holiday, that “Jesse wasn’t going to make it,” I wondered about prayers. So many had been sent from so far that I didn’t understand how they could be left unanswered. Were they gathered there outside the hospital doors, unable to get in? Did the Critical Care Unit refuse them? Did God or Jesse have some other unimaginable plans?

My son Aidan, age 8, couldn’t bear the news and ran up to his room sobbing. We all joined him on his bed in silence until he lifted his head from his pillow and demanded, “HOW can they be sure Jesse is going to die?!”

In the face of all of our bright hopes, it was a heartbreaking thing to answer. “Death is like a birth,” I began, tentatively. “There are signs that a baby is coming and there are signs that a body is ending. No one is certain of the exact time, but they know when it is imminent.”

Through all of our tears, I whispered again that death and birth were–both–truly miraculous; and though unfathomably painful, it was also quite beautiful that Jesse’s mother and father would be with him when he left this world as they were when they welcomed him into it.

As is the Jewish custom, friends and family sit with the body after death until the time of burial. At an hour when we would typically be heading up to bed, my family walked outside into the hushed snow and drove twenty minutes to town. We arrived at the funeral home just before 9:00 pm under a bright full moon and took our place beside the pine box that held Jesse’s body. We brought Rumi and lullabies and sat in sacred silence before turning over Jesse’s care to his grandmother and aunts–and finally to Lisa, his mother.

It was a magical night, holy, like Christmas Eve–perched as it was on the threshold of life and death. The next bitterly cold afternoon, we stood atop a mountain and buried the beautiful box with Jesse under the earth. Shovel upon shovel, upon fistful and tears. Aidan snuck a clump of dirt from the pile and brought it home with him through the deep snow. We lit the yellow candles we had burned for Jesse each night since the New Year; and this time, we let them burn out.

Emptied in our grief, we did not find the one shining miracle we had wanted; that one defining moment that could shape a story so spectacularly such as this for you. It’s the story I had imagined retelling… the one where Jesse recovers and goes off to college like he dreamed. Because of prayers. Because of a miracle.

Who knows how miracles work… when they come and when they don’t! Isn’t it the job of a miracle to fit our expectations?! Aren’t miracles measured by specific outcomes, or is it by something else… by their effect, maybe?

If the latter is the truest account, than Jesse’s life and Jesse’s death were one and the same–miraculous.

As I type these words this morning, snow falls and falls and falls upon soft spring roads. Pondering life through my tears, I don’t know where to end this unlikely tale of miracles. Until the phone rings…

It is my sister, three thousand miles away, announcing the birth of her daughter, Susannah.

Another miracle splashes into my life…

Kelly Salasin, 2009

(To read the amazing letter that Jesse’s mother wrote and read at the unveiling of his headstone, click here.)