The past few weeks I have been steeling myself up for the college drop-off. I’ve used every yoga exercise, physical and mental to remind myself that all of us have prepared for this moment. I noticed some nervousness with Aaron a few days before we left so I had him lie down on the couch and put his head in my lap. To my surprise, he didn’t hesitate. He didn’t have to make eye contact with me (I did a lot of successful mini-van parenting from the driver’s seat) and I talked him through accepting that all of life is about change. I stroked his head like a four year old, and reminded him that he has dealt with change exceptionally well in his life, moving to a new state as a sixth grader, going through the illness and death of his father, and adjusting to taking on bigger roles in the house, and that only one thing remans the same and will never change: our love. No matter where my next home is, he will always have a place with me. This did help ease things a bit for him for a couple of days.
However, saying goodbye to Delilah, our beloved bulldog, brought on some tears. I fought them, but he didn’t. Delilah came into our lives around Easter of 2011. I decided that we needed some joy in the house after Tony was placed under hospice care. He didn’t fight me on it, and the four of us rode out to a little farm in Columbia, TN where a herd of bulldogs came thundering out of an old trailer.Tony picked out Delilah, the cutest and calmest of the puppies. Delilah played a very important role in keeping laughter and light in this house. I understood his sadness and playfully joked that I could use a three month vacation from the dog myself.
Move-in day came. Lauren organized his closet and drawers, and we helped him get his books from the bookstore. We didn’t linger because we had a wedding to get to and needed to leave. Aaron insisted on walking us to the van and his eyes were filled with tears and in his typical style, he tried desperately to blink them away. I told him that we weren’t going to belabor and dramatize the moment because this was exactly what was supposed to happen. I kissed him, hugged him and told him that I loved him. Lauren and I both talked on the drive about what a strange, unique feeling this was, and neither of us had experienced anything like it before.
I told my sisters and Mom at the wedding that I was fine. Aaron was fine. Lauren was fine. We were all fine. And then I drove 8 hours back to Tennessee to a house that was exactly the same but not quite the same. It had an entirely different feel to it. I told myself again that it was fine. Change is inevitable. I went through all the BS that I had been spilling out to Aaron. Let if go, I told myself.
I went to the grocery store because a busy week lay ahead of me. I got to aisle 18 and there it was: IBC root beer on sale. Aaron loves IBC root beer. He often would ask me to get some and I would reply, “only if it’s on sale.” I fell apart. I put on my sunglasses, threw my head over the shopping cart and had a good cry in aisle 18. I shed tears of self-pity that I was forced to experience this without Tony. I shed tears of disappointment because I probably hadn’t enjoyed every moment of the past 18 years and often wished school years would pass quickly. I shed tears of frustration that I lived in a different time zone from Charlottesville and couldn’t get there for parent’s weekend or to take him out to lunch every now and then. But primarily, I shed tears because I am going to miss Aaron being around. I’ll miss seeing him in the chair with his feet up, working feverishly on homework, watching endless episodes of Family Guy or some other inappropriate tv show on Comedy Central. I will miss how he checks the doors in the house each night, taking on this role for his Dad. I will miss his calm presence when drama creeps into the family. I will miss our lengthy discussions about religion, relationships and politics. I let myself cry for just a moment lest I upset the kind employees at Publix. Then I took my sunglasses off and moved to the dairy aisle, renewed, refreshed and baptized in my own tears.
It has only been a week since the drop-off. but an unanticipated change in our relationship has already presented itself. He texts me to ask my opinion on classes, extracurriculars and relationships. He calls me and when he does, he ends it with “love you, Mom.” Oh thank you Aaron, I want to say. Thank you for helping me adjust to the newness of not having you around. I know that once he feels secure in his new environment, that the texts and phone calls will die down. I hope it does, because for years, I have given my students’ parents advice on helping kids make decisions on their own. I am careful to say to him, ‘What do you think and want?’, not giving my opinion but helping him weigh the options, and empowering him to decide for himself. He is fine, and today, I am fine, too.