I deposited my youngest child back at college last week. He’s the least demanding and least expensive of all my children so I was a little bit sad to see him go. I always have fleeting moments of emotion when I say goodbye to my kids. But I’ve been doing this for six years and have found that every goodbye is followed by an overwhelming sense of freedom.
I used to have that same feeling when I was a college student. I’d get into my army-green Ford Pinto, wave goodbye to my parents, light up a blunt (just kidding, kids) and drive away into the great beyond.
I loved my parents, I loved my house. I loved my sisters. And back then, I even loved my dog. But, I couldn’t wait to leave them all and get back to college.
Because there were rules at home. I had to tell my parents what I was doing and where I was going. And even if I didn’t tell them the truth, I had to come up with a believable story. I had to eat the meatloaf my mother put on the table, or go hungry. I had to rake the leaves and shovel the snow and take walks around the block with my father. I had to sneak in late at night and make excuses for why I stayed in bed until noon.
But, in the grand scheme of life, I had it really pretty good. My parents didn’t ask too many questions and when they did I just said that the cigarette stench on my clothes was from Penny (aka Patty) or Debbie or Rachel or Madge. But I didn’t share my stories of picking up those hitchhikers or driving to Florida one night on a whim or running from the police after a party gone bad.
Something switched between then and now. The purpose of parents is no longer to instill fear. Somewhere along the line, parents became confidantes and kids became friends. The last point of contact became the first. I would no more have called my mother about a flat tire than I would have asked my father to post my bail. I would have exhausted every single sister, acquaintance and best friend’s brother before I would succumb to the wrath of my very reasonable, but very parental parents.
But my kids. My kids tell me everything. And while I’m not foolhardy enough to believe that they’re not hiding some secrets from me, the expensive ones, the upsetting ones and the life-altering ones, I’m told about.
So far, not one of them has outdone me. But, because I know what’s in their DNA, and in their not-fully-developed-young-adult-brains, (because they tell me) – I worry. I worry that they’re going to trip and fall. I worry that they’re going to crash and burn. I worry that they’re going to take one of their harebrained ideas and run with it. I worry that they won’t. I worry that they won’t fall in love. Or out of it. I worry that they’ll quit their jobs. Or worse.
I’m pretty good with the out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. I don’t worry about my kids when they’re not giving me something to worry about. I don’t think about my daughter walking the streets of New Orleans alone late at night or my middle son getting mugged in South Central LA or my little one walking a mile-and-a-half to school in the snow with no boots. But when their numbers show up on my phone, that’s when I start to worry. Because I know it’s going to cost me. Financially or emotionally. And usually both.
But what really keeps me up at night is when I start to worry about my own future. And my freedom. And what would happen if they move back home and live with me until they’re 26 years-old.
Just like I did to my parents.