Milk is not vanishing from the refrigerator as quickly as it did a few weeks ago, nor do loaves of bread diminish with the usual speed. Similarly, my loads of laundry are mysteriously smaller, the need for gas fill-’er-ups has decreased and one of our four bedrooms never seems to have an unmade bed.
Still, five place mats remain at the kitchen table, even though no more than four people have gathered there at one time since the night of Aug. 21.
It’s little things like this that occasionally shock me into the consciousness of a new reality: our oldest child has flown the coop, at least temporarily, and is in the early days of pursuing a bachelor’s degree many miles from here.
Hey, we’re all doing fine–he in his fifth-floor dorm room, making do with a window fan and a tree-top view of the world and us back at home, continuing to fulfill our work, family and volunteer obligations as if nothing much was different.
But it’s little things that keep coming to mind as a result of this big change. When we first moved to Worthington and the newly minted college man was just under six months old, I had abruptly left behind the full-time professional world in favor of sharing my days with that dimpled, blue-eyed baby boy. Not yet fully engaged in the community, my time was filled with walks behind a navy blue-and-white-striped stroller, endless pushes of the giggling lad on the “baby swings” at Centennial Park and household activities sandwiched in during nap times. As early as eight months old (and I would testify to this under oath), the kid would sit and raptly absorb stories read to him for three hours at a stretch, always ready for more.
So I wasn’t greatly surprised when, in a short phone conversation the night his college classes officially began, he informed me he had “already read 46 pages ahead” in a textbook for one of his courses and was drafting an essay before heading out to a 9:30 p.m. showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
And why should I worry about what he’s eating now? Little things, again, stir in my memory–like the list I made when he was about 2 1/2 of the few edibles he would consume at that time without fussing–cheese tortillas, applesauce, Cheerios, bread and butter, a handful of other bland, white-ish items. He’s already informed us he’s tried hummus, Afghani cuisine and other unusual delicacies while at college, so the days of limited menu options for him are now officially history.
When he was born, my life in many ways shrunk for a time; we joined a vastly smaller community and I traded board meetings and routine business travel for nursery rhymes and children’s games. But as he grew, our worlds mutually expanded until we’ve reached this point in time, where nothing but horizon stretches ahead for him, and it would be wrong for us to restrict the places and spaces he can explore.
His involvement in a bicycle accident–another of life’s little curve balls–a short six blocks from home and only four nights before he was to depart for college earned him a quick but expensive visit to the emergency room and two new stitches on his skull. (We extend our sincere gratitude to the good Samaritans who took the stunned and bleeding teen, along with his bike, to the ER.) That accident provided another jolting lesson that actually made it easier to let him go: whether near or far, his safety, health and life are in God’s hands, not ours, and we must support him as he moves forward to find his place in the world.
Yes, we’re missing some of the little things–the full dinner table, the booming baritone voice, the early morning tussles with siblings over bathroom time on school days, the frequent drop-ins with loud and lively friends, the rides he gave his sister.
Little things are definitely different, and much will never again be quite the same, but as a brief phone call recently ended, he mumbled, unbidden, ”Love you, mom.”
That’s the kind of little thing you’re never too big to hear.