Fly, dammit

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I might as well start with the first topic I listed in Or Just Settle For Mustard: the Empty Nest experience.

About three years ago I ran into a woman, Peg, whose daugher is three years ahead of my son in school. I'd known Peg for about 10 years. Her daughter, like my son an only child, had just left home to attend Yale, and I imagined that Peg must be hurting. When I asked her if it was hard not having Elizabeth at home anymore, she insisted that it was No Big Deal, because everytime she sat down at the computer an Instant Message popped up: yo, mom.

Peg and Elizabeth have a close relationship, as do my son and I, and it's because of this closeness that people have assumed I'd suffer terribly when my son left home. Paradoxically, I believe those of us who are close to our children feel the separation less, because I, too, get a "hey mom" message at least once a day.

The anticipation was terrible, I admit. And it took me a few weeks to realize that I wasn't suffering. But the parent-child relationship undergoes constant change from birth on-- change characterized by a stretching of the bond every step of the way. The thread that has been stretching for 18 years just stretches a little farther when the child goes away to college.

The event that results in the greatest single stretch goes unremarked, mostly, because no parent realizes at the time how significant it is. My son got his driver's license on his 16th birthday, and I realize in retrospect that that was the day when the parent-child relationship underwent the most fundamental change. No longer dependent on me for a ride to school, to a friend's house, to the mall, to an orchestra rehearsal or a basketball game, my son was suddenly free, and so was I.

There are other stretching developments and events along the way, and by the time college rolls around it's just one more step on a long, long path.

One person I spoke to thought I might be afraid to live alone, but I'm not. Aside from the fact that I've lived alone at various times in the past--college, grad school, first job--I've overcome fear of strange noises in the house, since reading somewhere that "hardwood floors give back the day's footsteps during the night." (I wish I could attribute that-- I think it's from a short story I read in The New Yorker)


Hi Mrs. Hall! Great article, I bet all parents are very apprehensive about sending their children away to college. (I know my mom was...) Thanks for the pictures of me and Mike! =)

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