Sunday, January 28, 2018

Discovering The Truth

I still remember the first day the Heir went to kindergarten. As I put him on the bus and watched it pull away, the thought that ran through my mind was not, 'Oh, my big boy is growing up', or 'I hope he makes lots of friends', or even 'I hope he enjoys it'. It was, 'Well, my baby is now part of the system.'

Indeed, for the first few years of their lives, I was lucky enough to have my kids with me 24/7. Granted, I didn't always feel lucky. Sometimes I just wanted a break. But all that time together, especially with my firstborn, meant that his entire concept of what the world is came from me. What power! What responsibility! Yes, that first day alone with him, after my parents had left and my husband went back to work, was terrifying. But once I got the hang of things, I loved playing and singing and reading and walking with him. I was shaping him and his perception of the universe.

So it's not surprising that, once he became part of "the system" of public education, recognizing that I was relinquishing that power was tough. He was going to learn things from other people, people who might not see the world as I do, and might have different views from mine. What if they teach him to be fearful the world instead of curious? What if he learns to hate? What if they RUIN ALL THE WORK I'VE DONE?

The fact is, our kids are shaped by their experiences. As much as I'd have loved to encase mine in bubble wrap to protect them, it would have done more damage than good. And even when they went off to school for a few hours a day, they still lived with me and I knew everything about them and their lives.

When the Heir went off to college this past fall, our communication dwindled. That was hard for me. When he was in high school, we would text several times a day and have dinner together every evening, so I knew about his hobbies, his struggles,  his friends, and his likes and dislikes. Now it could be days before I'd hear, and even then it's a "hey, how's everyone at home? Things are good here." I know him well, I tell myself, despite the distance and the new experiences he's having at college. Even if he doesn't share them with me, of course he's still the same person.

Or so I thought.

The last time he was home, he and his girlfriend were watching a movie together one evening and I passed through the room to move some laundry around. Well. Talk about a shock.


He swears the writing and dialogue are great. The plots are interesting and engaging. The acting is terrific. As one who reads and watches TV to help inform my writing, it sounds reasonable. But I can't help but wonder if he's just saying that to help me get over my shock. If anyone asked me about my son, "rabid fan of Gossip Girl" would never have crossed my mind or passed my lips.

What this experience has underscored for me is that, as well as I know my kids, they are their own individual people and have their own lives. No matter how great they are at communicating with me, I will never know everything about them, their internal lives or all the pieces that make up who they are.

In reality, this is just a continuation of the journey that began all those years ago as the kindergarten bus pulled away. For me, it's been a journey of steps away from him as he becomes his own person. For him, it's a continuing journey toward himself.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Differential Equations

Though experts say you should never compare siblings to each other, it's almost impossible not to. While I appreciate the distinctions between the Heir and the Spare, and parent each one differently as a result, sometimes the evidence of those distinctions is sharp.

The other day, I was driving in the car with the Spare in the passenger seat. He was watching a video on his phone and I was listening to the radio. A YES song came on, triggering many vivid memories of a summer from my youth, and I turned up the volume. The Spare proceeded to turn up the sound on his video. I increased the radio, he upped his video. We quickly reached a standoff.

"Really?" I asked. "You do realize this is YES, right? A classic song by a classic band? You should listen to it, seriously. They lyrics alone are amazing."

At this point, he conceded that he could just pause his video and listen, which he did. But I couldn't stop thinking of what a stark difference the situation was from similar instances with the Heir. In those cases, a song would come on the radio, we'd both reach to turn up the volume and then both start singing, one of us the melody and the other the harmony, while the Spare rolled his eyes in the back seat and plugged in his ear buds.

This is just one example of how dissimilar the Spare's and my personalities are. I'm not complaining, it's just interesting. When he and his father are together, they share everything related to food, sports and nature. They really are of like minds. But my husband and I are also very similar in many ways, so it's surprising to me that sometimes, the Spare and I seem so very different.

In moments like this, I miss the Heir. I miss moments of shared excitement over something as small as a song on the radio we can sing along to together. Perhaps that's why, in the last few days, I'd be in the middle of a task and a not-yet-conscious thought worked its way forward in my mind. "Where is Jacob today and will he be home for dinner?" Or, "what time do I have to pick Jacob up again?" When I became fully conscious of each thought, it made me sad to realize he won't be home until Thanksgiving week.

I get the whole empty nest concept, and will surely miss both my sons dearly when they've moved out of our home for good. But with the Heir gone, I think I'm feeling it much more acutely than I will when the Spare heads out on his own. And it's likely my husband will feel then what I'm feeling now.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Strength Training

The dynamic shift in our household over the last month has been unlike any we've had since the Spare was born and the Heir, up until then the only child, had to welcome him into our home. This time, though, the process was the opposite: our nest has dwindled to three.

The most interesting thing to me has been watching the brothers blossom apart from each other. Being the worrying type, my concerns were that homesickness at college and a lack of time-management skills would throw my freshman into a deep hole of overdue work he'd never be able to escape. At home, I feared my high schooler's keen sadness in missing his brother, who had been his guide and advocate all last year, and a subsequent regression to old patterns of handling school work (read: not doing it).

The Heir is settling into college well. He's enjoying his classes, making friends, doing his own laundry(!) and living independently for the first time in his life. There's one course he's struggling with, and we've discussed how to approach it and options he has available. But the decision will ultimately have to be his.

At home, the Spare has begun his sophomore year of high school, reconnected with old friends and taken control of his work in a way he hasn't before now. He seems more mature, eager to take on responsibilities and happy to bask in the only-child glow for the first time in his life. But homework is becoming more frequent, and he pushes back when I make suggestions on how to better handle an assignment. Whatever he hands in, he'll have to live with the consequences of his efforts. Again, the decision will ultimately have to be his.

Amid this swirl of change, I looked forward to showering the Spare with all the attention he never received back when I had to split my time between two children (a.k.a. his whole life). I also made lists for care packages to send to the Heir and mapped out when I'd be able to write and edit my book.

But I never really considered what my own adjustments might be, so I didn't account for the quiet. I didn't schedule time for the vacancy. I find myself missing the Heir's laugh, his puns, his cooking, his hugs. I knew it would happen, but didn't know when. Like something akin to grief, it sneaks up on me at odd moments: when I'm trying to work out a plot point, when I'm making tea, when I'm reading an article I know he'd like.

It turns out we are all wobbling a little at the shift in dynamic, feeling our way into unchartered waters. For all of us, the change is just part of growing up. I imagine it will take a few months until we've settled into our new routines and habits, and in that time, I expect we'll build some never-before-used muscles: self-reliance, budding maturity, strength to let go. My hope is that we'll also gain an appreciation for those we love, as well as what we can do with them, and without them, by our sides.