School is out. The garden is young. Strawberries ripen daily. Warm nights filled with fire-flies are just beginning. Summer is here. The brown world of winter is just a memory, replaced by lush, green rolling hills and rippling waves of mountains. For now, summer stretches out before me like an invitation.
But this summer will be different. My oldest child is no longer a child. Tennyson, 18, will be spending most of his summer working in Washington, DC at Institute for Justice as an intern. Rooming in Kensington, Maryland, he’ll be taking the Metro to work each day. Just like that, he enters the adult world. He’s not leaving home for good and I will get to see him regularly. But something is changing. Sublimity—something I learned about while reading Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See –is the moment of change: when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a tadpole a frog, a boy a man.
I know what it’s like to be a mother with young children. I know what to do when my daughter scrapes her knee. I know what it takes to teach a child to tie his shoes, or learn to read, or write a story. I’m used to queries about meals or stain removal. Even the bickering inherent between siblings is ironically comfortable.
But I don’t know how to be a mother to an adult child—an independent son. My mind tells me he’s not independent yet—far from it. In other words, he’s not gone yet. But my heart says otherwise. If I’m not there when he can’t sleep, I don’t know how to help him. If he’s anxious, I won’t be able to sit on the edge of his bed talking with him as the moon rises.
I’ve grown pretty dependent on him, too. There have been days and nights that he has worked alongside me canning salsa or jam or spaghetti sauce. Some nights he makes dinner for the whole family. Often he makes dessert: strawberry-rhubarb pie, brownies (from scratch), and cupcakes. He even made me angel-food cake for Mother’s Day. And he mows acre upon acre of our property each week. He often runs to the store for some last minute necessity. I can feel my work-load increasing already.
But it’s not just his help that I’ll miss. His jokes make me laugh when I’d otherwise cry. He reads excerpts to me from his favorite books: Catch 22 and A Walk in the Woods. He loves a good villain, a good laugh, and good food. What about watching MASH reruns this summer? Or Pride and Prejudice? Or Mission Impossible? I wonder if I’ll miss the dirty ice cream scoop in the sink, the boots not in the boot tray, the porch doors left wide-open, too many lights on. Probably. In two months, he’ll be nineteen, but it occurs to me that I’ve known him longer. I don’t know how to let him go. Moreover, I don’t want to know.