Seventeen short years ago, I reeked of spoiled milk. Our firstborn was a spitter-upper of epic proportions. We always advised friends and family to hold him facing outward, or they’d inevitably end up with formula stains down their backs. In the early days, his thighs were plump enough to rival any Thanksgiving turkey, and his baby blues charmed every grandmother within a three-mile radius.
Fast forward (so mind-blowingly fast) to now, when his college visits are complete and the next phase of his life awaits. He’s 6’2″, smart, irreverent, handsome, and horrifying in the early morning hours.
We recently visited Notre Dame — his number one choice since he first entered, screaming and red-faced, into the world — and I cried through the entire introductory video. I watched the rowing team glide across the glass, listened to the impassioned student testimonials, blubbered my way through shots of the fall campus colors, and prayed to Touchdown Jesus that I’d get it together before the lights came back up and the Q&A session began.
We also visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison where we walked blisters onto our feet, cheered for the Badgers, and laughed hysterically at a student shirt that had “Bucky Did Your Mom” emblazoned across the front. I found myself simultaneously jumping up and down with excitement for my boy and weeping behind my sunglasses. My equilibrium was off, my center of gravity compromised.
Chris, Sam, and I enjoyed a dinner outside on State Street… until Briggs unexpectedly joined us. Briggs was an over-served undergrad who was tossed into our table by an overzealous bouncer with ropey arms and a mouth fouler than mine. Briggs, however, was not deterred by being physically removed from the bar — multiple times — because, as he claimed, “HE WAS 21!” The Mama Bear in me attempted to convince a bleeding, swaying, belligerent Briggs to go home, drink some water, take some Advil, and sleep for a long, long time, but Briggs insisted HE WAS FINE AND HE WAS 21. Eventually, the police and their handcuffs were more persuasive than I, and we adopted our new favorite family motto: #DontBeBriggs.
It was surreal to think about my ten pound bundle of joy painting his chest with school colors and partying with boys like Briggs and living a life independent of us, but of course, he will.
As he should.
As has always been the plan.
As millions before him have.
As millions after him will.
But oh, my heart.
I realize I’m a crier — after sweating, it’s my next-best superpower — but I’ve never been a kid transitions crier. I know other moms have felt it at different times, this punch to the gut, the breathlessness, the shock and awe, the holy-shit-who-just-ripped-my-heart-out-of-my-body-and-kicked-it-across-the-road ache. Kindergarten, middle school, high school… Many others felt it before me. And they talked about it, but I only half-listened. I was too busy celebrating my six free hours with Mimosas. I should have listened, should have been more in tune. But like most lessons on this earth, we must experience them firsthand to truly understand. I smiled and nodded and offered my semi-empathetic face to those teary mothers at the bus stop, but I wasn’t one of them. I loved my treasured empty hours and quickly filled them with writing, Target, naps, and coffee.
But now? Now I understand. I get it, weepy Moms. I get it. Like a raging, itchy case of chicken pox… I Get It.
Chris and I have always said we’ll be great empty nesters. There is no one I enjoy more than my husband. We look forward to traveling the world, to spending uninterrupted time together, to lots of laughter and wine and good eats. We still may very well be great empty nesters someday.
But the thought of the nest being 3/4 of the way full?
This looming absence?
This irrevocable family dynamic shift?
The empty chair at the dinner table?
It’s kicking my ass all the way from Notre Dame to the University of Cincinnati and back. I want to give Briggs a ring and ask him if he wants to join me for a drink or two or thirty. And that’s okay because HE’S 21!!!
In less than a year, my heart will be wandering around on a college campus somewhere, disguised as a dirty blonde 18-year-old with ruddy cheeks and a crooked smile. Odds are, he’ll party and drink and woo women and stay up way too late. He’ll wear dirty socks and forget to put the milk back in his dorm fridge. He’ll probably discover the wonder of raw cookie dough straight out of the tube and strawberry Pop-Tarts for dinner. He won’t clip his toenails.
We’ll leave him with clean towels and eighteen years of love and the-best-we-knew-how parenting and these parting words: Don’t do anything to put yourself or anyone else in harm’s way. Be smart. Be safe. Be kind.
And then it’s all up to him.
He’s so ready. This boy of ours will thrive. He’s not cautiously peering over the side of the nest, he’s standing on the edge, wings spread, yelling, “Is it time yet? Can I go? Now? HOW ‘BOUT NOW?!”
He will not look back. He shouldn’t look back. His leaving is not about me. It’s about his future, his potential, the start of his own independent existence. It’s about stepping into adulthood, about discovering who he is and who he intends to become. And then becoming it.
Sam has always been ours.
Soon he gets to be his own.
And I’ll be cheering him on from a distance, sunglasses firmly in place to hide the tears that will result from the bitter and the sweet (mostly, of course, the sweet) overwhelming my senses… for the next 50 years or so, give or take a few.
Hey, Sam… #DontBeBriggs. XO, Mom