Thoughts: He’s Off!

jamie and Tom.JPG

My son took off for college earlier this morning. He’ll make a stop and visit friends in Virginia for a couple of days, then we’ll meet up and drive the rest of the way to Florida to get him settled just outside of Orlando.

His school has no dorms, so he is living off campus. That means more stuff than the average kid, and so we’re taking two cars, both stuffed to the place where deep breaths are not allowed or even possible.

People have been asking me, right and left, if I was OK. He is, after all, the second and last of my kids to move out.

I am fine.

I am more than fine really. I am ready. Not that I was pushing him out the door. The last week before I went to college, my own Dad had me sleeping on the sofa while he transformed my bedroom into an office. We weren’t getting along too well by that point (something we fixed a few years later) and he was soooo ready for me to go.

But that’s not where I am. It was, I will admit, nice to find all the dishes that had disappeared in the two years he has been here, even if a couple of them needed chisels to get the stuff off of them. And it’s been nice finding the tools that likewise had gotten buried in the rubble that was his side of the upstairs.

Rubble? Oh yes, rubble. Let’s just say if that side of the upstairs had been an apartment, I would NOT be giving back the deposit. It will take me two or three days to make it livable again.

But that’s just stuff. And stuff does not matter as much as people. And he spent most of his last few days connecting and saying his goodbyes to the people that have embraced him since he came here two years ago.

Both of my kids left their mom and came to live with me at the end of their respective junior years in high school. Both came pretty broken. Both left to go off to college in good places after a year or two here. It’s been a testament to one of my core beliefs, that when people are valued for who they are, loved for who they are, they are free to become amazing.  And both of them have.

The boy that came here two years ago was a mess. He lived in a place of fear. He was afraid to just be who he was. I can remember, a week after he got here, asking him to take his dishes from the living room to the kitchen. He ducked his head, lowered his eyes and his whole body posture was one of fear of reprisal.  Every time we had a difference of opinion, his was delivered haltingly, as if waiting for the blow.

He thought slowly. He had trouble remembering things. Math, beyond the simplest things, was a struggle. His health was not good. In a way, he reminded me of the stray dogs you see on those heart-wrenching ASPA commercials that break our hearts so bad most of us go in the kitchen when they come on. His anxiety level was crippling. He was hesitant

People who see him now would not believe that of him. He’s got enough sass for half a dozen ordinary mortals. He’s smart, crazy smart. Complex math is second nature. His love of technology has turned into a wealth of knowledge that he can’t get enough of and is driving his choice of college and career. He is creative, and states his opinion, no matter how well founded or strange, with the passion only an eighteen-year-old can have.  He makes me laugh constantly.

Are some of the insecurities and fears he came with still there? Yes, they are. Those things don’t disappear. At best, you become equipped to deal with them, and he’s wisely accepted the help and done the work to become equipped.

He’s ready.

One of the things that he’s learned moving up here, is that moving to a new place can be invigorating. It can bring a new energy to us, even when are forced to move for painful reasons. He (and my daughter before him) did not move to Vermont to be with dear old dad. They came to get away from situations they were in. They only discovered that dear old dad had some redeeming qualities after they moved here.

And they both grew. Thrived. Got to grab hold of new possibilities. They grew into themselves, not into something someone expected them to be.,

One of the things my parents did really well, was let us kids grow up. They didn’t force the speed of it. They didn’t put artificial breaks on it. They let us grow at our own pace, and they let us go, grow up and make our own mistakes and claim our own victories.

Even if they didn’t get it. Heaven knows, my dad did not get me or my choices. English? Who goes to college in English? I should have gone into engineering or business. Those were a man’s subject. Get an MA in Poetry? Poetry? At a girls college? What kind of kid was this?

But you know what, he let me do it. And when I struggled, he was there, even if he wasn’t happy with my choices.

When my kids were small, they did what kids do. Grow. It’s crazy how fast small kids grow. I felt like I was buying shoes and clothes every week to replace the ones we bought the week before. My ex-wife used to tell them (and told them well into teenagerhood) “Stop growing!”.

To which I always said “Keep growing. It’s your job.”  We both said it so often, my kids would repeat both of them with us as we said them. A family joke.  that really is how I feel. Growth at their young ages (He’s 18. My daughter is 23) is now in their minds and emotions and what they learn and what they do for a livelihood. And it’s just as fast and ongoing as the growing out of shoes and clothes thing.  That’s the way it is supposed to be.

Only that really is how I feel. Growth at their almost grown up ages (He’s 18. My daughter is 23) is now in their minds and emotions and what they learn and what they do for a livelihood. And it’s just as fast and ongoing as the growing out of shoes and clothes thing.  That’s the way it is supposed to be.

And part of that growing is leaving. How else do you complete the work of becoming yourself? You pull away (most of) the safety net and dance on the high wire.

And part of my growth is the letting go.  I loved and love being a parent. I discovered in my divorce that I may have loved being a day-to-day parent more than I loved being a husband. Certainly, I mourned it more. And I rejoiced in it more when I got a second chance to finish raising my kids as they came back.

But for me too, just like with him, it’s a time to move to what’s next. And there’s plenty ahead to look forward to, to grow into, to expand and discover.

He’s ready.

I’m ready too.

He’ll make mistakes. So will I. That is part of growing. Growing is not some effortless path to somewhere, it’s a crazy roller coaster that somehow goes off the rails and goes back on again, while we scream and laugh and cry our way through it all.

He is off on his next step, two car loads of stuff and all. And I will be doing the opposite, cleaning out and getting rid of things. Beginning something new.

I wonder if he is as excited as I am?

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: The picture above was taken on an early childhood trip with my kids to Disney, at an old British Pub in Saint Augustine where we used to stop for lunch on the way down. I am hoping we can stop there for lunch again, and grab a shot of us together now.

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