I cried all the way home.
It was a five hour drive. And I cried all. the. way. home. Not hysterically sobbing, more weeping … with some hysterics sprinkled in.
I remember the weight of his absence so clearly. I rememeber the suffocating heat of his dorm room before we left. I remember the sound of the fan his dad bought and jammed in the window. I remember his little brother lazily running his little boy hand down his big brother’s new desk and sprawling across the bunk bed – looking both intrigued and forlorn – would his brother really live here?
The first few days were soaked with worry and stress as he managed his new life – alternating with texting me questions about what to do next and not answering for hours at a time. The days wove into weeks and then months and honestly, not much changed. We still talked via text every day — usually multiple times a day. I helped him solve problems and we both looked forward to Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
Finally his made its last turn onto our driveway in May. He’d made his way through his first year of college and I was so grateful to have him home. So grateful for the pile of tennis shoes, the bag of laundry, the kindness to his brothers that dwindled to their natural state of lovingly bickering. We were all under one roof again and I was so happy.
And then I realized he’d changed. He’d grown up. He’d become independent. He’d managed to live on his own for nine months, handling football and class, friends and laundry. We were forever different. I had to process a new heartache. Not just his not living here anymore, but now, his fierce independence.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Isn’t that the point, to raise them to be independent humans living their best lives? But here’s the thing I’ve come to understand.
I had to grieve being needed.
This new version of my son didn’t need me. Well, let me rephrase that. He didn’t need me in the way that I wanted to be needed. All the ways that filled me up. He didn’t need me to manage his schedule or to do his laundry–he actually preferred to do his own. He didn’t need me to feed him or change the sheets on his bed. He didn’t need me to pack his lunch or find his favorite sweatshirt when he lost it. Now, to be certain, he asked all of those things of me … just not as often or with as much urgency as when he was young.
He was courteous and kind, he let me know where he was going and when he’d be home. He let me know if his plans changed and he always thanked me for the things I did do for him.
And for my part, I think I did a pretty good job of not interfering. I didn’t demand he stay home during the week or force a curfew of years past. I asked his opinion, didn’t go in his room without knocking.
Slowly, we became a different, stronger version of ourselves. I began to embrace his independence. I let go of being the designer of his life and began to really, honestly, enjoy watching him create something I could not have even imagined. And he began to include me.
What I never could have known in that sweltering dorm room that day in August of 2016 was that although my heart was breaking, and I felt like I would never be whole again without him in our home, what comes after being needed is to be included. And being included, willfully included, is just as sweet as being needed.
He includes me in his plans, and asks to be included in ours. He includes me in his decisions, often asking me for advice and my ideas. He includes me in his life, on purpose. Not because he needs me (which I still like to think he does a little) but because he wants me there. That inclusion is built on the years of him needing me, and me answering the call. That inclusion is built on a relationship where the bedrock was built together, brick by brick.
Standing on this side of goodbye I can see clearly the arc of our story. I can anticipate the future and how our relationship will continue to change. I can see a time where our mutual inclusion may evolve into my needing him. And I know he will answer the call.