I can see my rocking chair again, even sit in it – if I want …which I haven’t in a long time. Until about two months ago, it had gradually disappeared under a rapidly growing pile of things … things like pillows and bedding … surrounded by furnishings like a hamper, lots of hangers, laundry detergent and toiletries … boxes with furniture, a desk and a chair, waiting to be assembled … later … after they were delivered to their real destination (which was not my rocking chair). The growing accumulation of stuff was destined for a room in a fraternity house at a university some three states away. Just over two months ago, the whole pile was loaded up and delivered to the intended destination … along with my son, who’s starting a new chapter in his life.
I suppose it’s fitting that all this stuff for him piled up around the old rocking chair. I’ve had that chair almost as long as I’ve had him … a gift from my own parents to honor their first grandchild. Originally, they planned to give me the rocker in which I’d been rocked as a child. But that was broken in their own move more than a year before my son was born. So they gave us funds to buy a new one. It was a good investment. There’s no way to calculate the hours I’ve spent in that chair … nursing my babies, rocking them to sleep, reading to them.
That chair has been such a symbol of nurturing in the house that even our late cat Yeti recognized it as a place of nurturing. Years ago, when I was in seminary, our house in Blaine became infested with mice. Yeti would dutifully hunt down the mice that came out of the attic into the living space. In the morning, I would find his kill from the previous night left near the rocking chair in the family room. I imagine he considered it to be doing his part to provide and care for the family.
Unlike the old rocker my parents meant to pass along to me, my rocker has survived every move we’ve made so far … the move from Mesa (where the kids were born) to the Twin Cities (where they started school) to Kansas (where they both attended middle school), back to the Twin Cities (where my son graduated and my daughter will soon graduate from the same school district in which they started elementary school). And although this chair was never even considered to make this big move with my son, it served as a gathering point for the things he would be taking on his first big move.
Having his new stuff surrounding that well-loved chair was a way of blessing them, I suppose. The chair was so much a part of my early nurturing of him, maybe it was fitting that it played a central role in one of my last acts of nurturing for him: providing him the things he would need as he stepped out into the world (mostly) on his own.
Oh, he’s not totally on his own. He’s in a fraternity with a band of brothers all around, some of whom may come to be as dear as brothers he might have been raised with (if I’d had other sons). There’s a house dad to keep an eye on things and a cook to prepare dinner most nights. I send care packages with food and other things he may need (a wastepaper basket and, most recently, his Harry Potter wand). But he is making his own nest now, someplace else. He no longer resides under my roof, in my nest … and likely won’t on a full-time basis ever again.
It helps to know that this is making a dream come true for him. He’s known what he wanted to study in college and where he wanted to study it since a Boy Scout merit badge clinic at that very same university years ago. Glad as he was to leave Kansas and come back up to Minnesota (and especially the cold), his heart was still set on that university back in Kansas. I wasn’t sure how that could happen, but it’s worked out. He’s there, living his dream. And I am very glad and happy for that.
In many ways, taking him to college was much like taking him to Chelsea Heights on that first day of kindergarten. Fourteen years ago, with a mixture of pride and grief, I pulled up in our minivan in front of that school house. I helped him out, gave him a hug, and sent him on his way into his classroom for his very first day of school. While I stood and watched, he walked up the sidewalk, through the open doors and turned left to go into his classroom, never once looking back.
Maybe it was a good thing he didn’t look back so he didn’t see the tears in my eyes. Yes, some of them were tears of sadness that a chapter in my life, a chapter in which I was his main teacher and was present with him for most of his waking hours, was ending. He was growing up and there was no turning back the clock. That first day of kindergarten was the first rung on a long, but limited, ladder that would lead to graduation … college … and then life on his own as adult. But for him to have all the wonderful experiences and the life I’ve been hoping for him since I knew of him, he would have to take those steps up the sidewalk and into that school.
But some of those tears that day flowed from a heart full of pride – pride in how he’d grown and developed … that he was now ready for the learning adventures of school and excited about going … at the way he walked up that sidewalk and into that school, never once looking back. I was thrilled for him and the experiences he was about to have.
When I saw him the last time two months ago, it was much the same thing. It grieved me to let him go into that house that evening … to drive back to the hotel … knowing that we would leave town the next morning without him. After the pledging ceremony the day before, a mom sitting next to me confided she didn’t know how she would make it until family day, a month away. I said I would have to wait until Thanksgiving. She asked how I was going to make it; I said I didn’t know, but I’d have to somehow.
And just like that first day of kindergarten, I was also proud of all he accomplished and excited for the adventure that was about to begin for him. If he’s going to have all that I’ve hoped for and dreamed for him all this time, this is another step he has to take. So there was pride and happiness mixed in with that grief once more. I tried to focus on that as I gave him a hug that somehow had to be big enough to last three months.
Of course, just like that first day of school, he walked up the sidewalk into that big brick house and never once looked back.
Since we’ve been back here, things have been quieter in the house. The foolish fighting he and his sister would frequently engage in has stopped. His room is clean, with much of what he’s left here packed away. The bed has been made every single morning since I last made it after washing the sheets a month ago. Such wonders rarely happened when he inhabited the room.
Still, I do miss him. I miss having an eye on his comings and goings … hearing the few things he might say about his classes and how things were going … discussing current events and sports news. So I send him things I find that we might have talked about whether it’s links to articles that I email or comic strips clipped from the paper. I write letters; I send emails. I put together care packages to send out … sometimes surprises … sometimes things he’s requested – with a surprise or two or three tucked in with what he asked for.
I don’t hear much in return. That’s to be expected, I suppose. He’s a busy guy these days with a full load of classes that take a lot of study time. He’s a pledge in a fraternity with tasks to complete in order to become a full member as well as social activities. He’s now completely responsible for his laundry, assigned house chores, and arranging his own meals (except for weeknight dinners).
So I learn to live with the “no news is good news” approach. If something bad were to happen, I would hear from someone. If there were a major problem, I think he’d ask for help. He is developing the habit of dropping us a sentence or two by email once a week. At least we know he’s still there. That helps.
In time, I’m sure I’ll get used to the infrequent contact. This is what the future holds. For the next few years, he’ll spend more time there than here … and the time spent here may gradually diminish before he graduates. Then he’ll find work somewhere … maybe close to here, but maybe not. Either way, once he’s working and has his own place, we’ll likely hear from him even less frequently … no more often than I call or write or have contact with my own parents. That is what it means for him to grow up and I never did want him to stay little forever.
But I’m not quite ready for that yet. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a month from now when he’ll be home on Thanksgiving break and I’ll have him back in my nest for a little while.