The emotional intensity between my son and me is almost electric as he packs what seems like his entire room into his already overloaded car. "Son, you don't need to take everything," I remind John. "You're right, Mom. If I need it later, what's 300 miles?" His grin seems a bit patronizing and the pat on my shoulder less than sincere as he continues packing.
How did we reach this point in our lives so quickly? When I look at him, sometimes I still see the 3-year-old asking me to teach him to pronounce "yambulence" so his friends wouldn't laugh at him. I shudder as I remember the insecure, frightened 11-year-old John, bewildered by his lack of friends at a new school, and the 16-year-old who chose a lonely road rather than bending to the pressures of peer influence. While I savor these memories of little-boy John, my adult John takes a final look around the house, walking from room to room, remembering his childhood.
I remember when Mom put these glow-in-the dark stars on my ceiling. I've enjoyed looking at Orion, and the Big and Little Dippers glowing softly at me each night. And it's a wonder Dad and I didn't break the mirror on the closet door with all the slam dunks we did in that basketball hoop we put up. And look at those ceiling beams. I used to have to take a running leap just to touch them. Now I can touch them standing here flat-footed. I've gotta get out of here. I'm feeling weird.
John slides into the driver's seat and I look at his man-sized frame. Where has the little boy gone? It seems only yesterday we were reading Dr. Seuss and The Biggest Bear.
"I'm ready, Mom," he says in a deep, steady voice. "Are you?" I know he's talking about the trip and nothing else, but I think about how very unready I am for this journey. I'm not finished enjoying our late-night talks when he returns home from his part-time job, marching with the band, or playing basketball. I sense that silence will fill our home when he's not singing in the shower, playing his music, or telling us jokes, and it weighs on my emotions.
I asked Mom if she's ready to go, but I'm not sure I'm ready. I need to sit here just a few more minutes and prepare for the break. Can't stay. Mom's about to lose it. Tears are on the edges of her eyelids, and if she starts, I'm feeling just shaky enough that I might cry too. Can't have that.
As my handsome man-child drives the car confidently out of the driveway and out of the city limits, I realize again that the boy I see in my mind's eye is not the man I am seated beside. This is a new phase in his journey toward independence and adulthood, and I decide to embrace this new and precious part of the adventure with enthusiasm. And we've planned what I hope will be a nice way to observe the transition: My husband is following us in the camper, and we're staying down by the lake tonight. We'll sit around the campfire listening to the night sounds, breathing in the aroma of the cedar trees and the decaying fallen leaves in the forest. We'll watch the sparks float upward as we discuss life goals, dreams and memories.
Mom just gave me a questioning look, but said nothing. Good, because I'm not ready to talk about the raw emotions I'm feeling right now. I can't wait to be on my own. By this time tomorrow I'll be moved into my dorm room and will have attended my first orientation class. I know I can do this. It's just this awkward transition between the security of being in my parents' home, and the independence of being on my own. I'm not sure Mom could handle it if I said these things aloud. I'm not sure I can say them.
About the time John and I begin to relax, the camper breaks down. It's late and there is no repair shop open. As the three of us try to decide what to do next, John analyzes the situation and comes up with a solution of his own. "Mom, Dad, I've never driven the mountain alone, and I've never driven it in the dark, but I know I'm ready. I'll be OK."