You know that flash of recognition when you just “get it?” It’s almost physical – the sensation of understanding – really understanding an important piece of information, or the significance of an event. As if a light is turned on.
That sort of epiphany can be good or bad, satisfying or bittersweet. Any number of emotions characterize our moments of realization.
The Car Keys
The other day when I was writing, my elder son knocked on my door and asked for the car keys.
We’re a one-car household. The routine is clear: he asks permission, provides details on where he’s headed, and we agree on when he’s to be home, even if he has friends in tow who will stay here overnight.
He took one look at me – I had the disheveled look of “she hasn’t moved all day,” and he could tell I wasn’t processing what he said.
“May I take the car?” he repeated.
“Where are you going?”
He told me. I said fine. Then he asked if I was okay. I muttered something about my captioning HTML and lack of sleep with the new school schedule, and that I forgot to eat again.
“It’s 5 o’clock,” he said. “Do you want me to make you something before I go?”
He had a look of concern on his face – that face I’ve watched change from round and wide-eyed to this young man – lean, intense, mischievous. Worldly.
He leaves for college in a few weeks, and will celebrate his 18th birthday there, 900 miles away, with new friends, in a new life. His life.
“I’m okay,” I said. “Have fun.”
And then he went out.
More Than a Sandwich
The light bulb moment: He really is leaving.
This is my little boy, nearly a man, who has always been mature beyond his years. The 6-year old who took care of me when I was ill. The 7-year old who waited 5 hours in line with me, as we told each other stories, the day of the Antiques Roadshow.
This is the 8-year old who stood up on the playground against a bully, protecting his baby brother. The 9-year old who was beginning to understand that our family would never be the same after divorce. But I wasn’t to worry – at 10, he promised he’d never leave me. He would build a house in the back yard and live there with his wife and children. I remember thanking him, and telling him it was okay if he later changed his mind.
Pride, Memories, Lessons
At 12, my son insisted I begin dating, and suggested Match.com. (I had to stifle the smile; he was so earnest – and specific!)
At 13 he took care of me after emergency surgery, and a few weeks later, held me as I wept, after my mother’s sudden passing.
At 14 he was traveling Europe on his own. At 15, he biked hundreds of miles around this city – school, errands – all without complaint, because we had no car, and no means to afford one. At 16, he studied in France on a scholarship, attending French high school in a tiny country town.
No angel, this same young man is the source of my share of gray hair, thanks to his share of teenage antics. But he sets off for a great university with $150,000 in scholarship, earned through his smarts, leadership, and hard work.
I could not be more proud.
I have raised my sons to dream big, to give love, and tough out hard times. I’ve made mistakes I can’t undo, and some things, I know I’ve done well.
Half my most important job is ending; my younger son is now demanding the spotlight – rightfully – and will own it over the next two years.
But my firstborn’s light will shine elsewhere. As it should. And his imminent departure is sinking in. It’s a realization that is, indeed, bittersweet.