Last Monday I blew off work and walked to a comic-book store with my son, not because I love comics but because he leaves for college in a month, and until then whatever he wants to do sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day.
This is a strange time, and like everything kid-related it comes with no owner’s manual. It’s complex and weird and too layered to sum up by saying we’ll “miss” him. And yet, people continue to ask us: Will you miss him?
If ever there was a yes or no question that could not be answered with yes or no, this is it.
Of course we will miss him?
No way, man, I’ve got Vegas booked for the day after he goes?
The question is a cup of ice atop a glacier. In one month, the way of life we’ve led for 18 years comes to a close. The most important person in our lives (let’s not lie; he is) will be 3,000 miles away. It’s not whether or not we’ll miss him; it’s wondering whether our lives will continue to make sense.
There will be lifestyle improvements, for sure. I look forward to never having to dig through several layers of spent microwave popcorn bags to locate the iPhone power cord I plugged into the kitchen outlet yesterday. I will enjoy always having soap when I take a shower. I will enjoy not driving to Mountain View in sweatpants at midnight because otherwise I’d just lie there, awake and sweating, if he really did take Caltrain home from the concert like I suggested.
But these are trifling things that will likely soon become endearing memories, suddenly melancholy reminders that he’s not here anymore. I’ll add them to the things I already know I’ll miss, some subtle, others as obvious as the pangs that come from looking at the gallery of photos on our bedroom wall: There he is at his second birthday, impatiently eyeing a pile of gifts; at 5, climbing on my back. Then he’s 10, kneeling in the sand with our new puppy, and 13, in his tasteful pinstriped bar mitzvah suit. On and on until he’s 17, in a picture taken last winter in Key West, poised on the edge of adulthood, all of the confidence, anticipation and excitement of wondering what comes next bursting forth from his eyes.
And there we are, his parents, gradually aging, me with a little less hair each time until finally, we too are in Key West, fading with what we hope is grace next to our dynamic young man of a son, looking exactly like the empty nesters we soon will be.
In that picture is something else, too, something between my wife and me. It’s the easy familiarity that 25 years together brings and more — the confidence that for us, the next stretch will be a whole bunch of “Hey, great! It’s you!” and very little “Oh, great, it’s you.” We’re looking forward to that.
I will miss the bedroom door suddenly bursting open at midnight because Lucas just released a trailer for Star Wars VII. I will miss hours trying to work at the kitchen table while the same guitar chord comes screeching, over and over, improving slightly each time, out of my son’s bedroom. I will miss the wonder of having my child design and build an air cannon that launches pingpong balls with enough force to dent a Coke can.
I will miss having him reach up to hold my hand at the corner even though he’s still mad at me because I wouldn’t buy him ice cream, and I will miss seeing his eyes light up when I enter the room … but I’ve missed that stuff for years.
And I will worry, which I’ve also done for years. What will he do without us? What if he puts a load of laundry in and forgets about it? Who will remind him? Who will make sure he goes to class and does his homework? Who will be his superhero?
It’s OK. This helicopter had to land sometime. Will I miss him? Yes, among other things. But he’s never going to learn to replace the toilet paper roll with me doing it for him, so obviously it’s time for him to go.