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.