He wakes with with insanely swollen mosquito bites. Still in my pajamas, I nearly offer to run to the store right at that moment. I pause, ask if he wants to go or if he wants me to help, and he says he has some forms to print and a few more packing-related tasks. I say I will go but take the time to first shower and compose myself. Bill and Nick depart for Nick's baseball camp and I holler at Nick "don't forget to say goodbye to your brother!" He says, "I already did. I gave him a hug and told him will miss him and that I love him." I say, "oh" and I think, "but I didn't see it happen. That doesn't count!" I resist the urge to ask for a repeat performance.
The outdoor temperature gauge on my car reads 84 degrees. It is 8:15 am. My eyes, still swollen from crying jags one and two during the night, prickle but the tears don't quite form. Until they do, and then fall, as I attempt to pat concealer under my eyes before walking into the store.
A sign that reads "Fall Flowers" catches my eye. For just a moment, I forget my purpose, stop, and carefully select three plants. I walk inside and look for a cart. The one I choose has a warning, "No Children Allowed" and I remember.
I place the plants in the basket and push it forward, toward the first-aid aisle. I pass through the school supplies and impulsively grab a box of colored pencils; he needs supplies even if he is an adult. If nothing else, I know presenting them to him will make him laugh. I continue, find the anti-itch creams, and stand, staring without comprehension at the various options. The packages all look the same; I don't know how to choose.
Movement catches my eye and I turn my head toward a woman pushing a cart with a smiling baby sitting in the seat. I grin and make a funny face at him, he giggles. Tears explode out of my eyes. "My son is leaving for college today," I say after she asks if I am okay. "They grow up so quickly," she says.
I pluck three different creams from the shelf and move toward the medicine to help with the inflammation. I grab a bag of Vitamin C drops; he should put some in his carry on bag and suck on one whenever he hears someone cough. I see the travel-size products and reach for a three-pack of tissues. I find the right medicine, I think, and I proceed to the register.
Tears threaten again as I take my bags and walk toward the parking lot.
I can anticipate nearly always accurately the responses I will hear when I mention being sad. "He'll be back soon." Yep, he will; I'm still sad. "At least he will be close to home when he returns and begins at OSU." Yep, he will; I'm still sad.
As parents, we've moved beyond just talking about happy moments. We now share the joyfully hilarious moments. and the epic fail moments. This is wonderful progress because there is no more effective balm than hearing or reading we aren't the only ones. Sometimes, though, moments are simply sad. Feeling the grief that comes with so many steps of parenting (and my parents reassure me it never really ends) does not mean we aren't grateful and blessed and happy we're parents. This is not and either/or equation; it is both/and.
I am both proud beyond measure and sad my first-born is flying to another country on his own. I am both relieved the hard diaper years are long behind me and sad he doesn't need much help these days.
I am full of both joy and grief, of love and anguish.
The next couple of hours fly. I speak with clients and brainstorm solutions to an urgent problem. Steven brings his suitcases downstairs and I pepper him with questions. "Sunscreen? Toothbrush? Passport? Shoes?" He answers in the affirmative again and again.
It is just the two of us for this leg of his journey. We sit some in silence and some in small talk. Traffic slows and I see him check his watch. Mentally, I reassure him we are more than early enough but I don't say the words; he knows.
We park, he grabs his luggage and declines my offer of help. We make our way from the garage into the sweltering heat and then into the frigid airport. I let him lead. He is more than capable of navigating without me. After his bag is checked, a sandwich and fruit salad are purchased, a couple of love notes from us are tucked away for reading later, and a couple of $20 bills are slipped into his wallet, we arrive at the entrance to security.
"This is it, kiddo," I say as I reach up to hug him tightly. He hugs me back. I feel my chest heave and I know he feels it too. "These are happy and proud tears, you know that, right?" I say. He nods. We stand and look at the entrance for a few seconds more and then I hug him again. "The world is waiting for you, kiddo. Go enjoy your adventure," I say. He smiles, says one more goodbye, and strides forward.
I watch for a moment, tears streaming down my face, and then turn to leave. I make it about 10 steps before I turn and walk to a spot where I can watch him. He doesn't see me, doesn't turn my way and before I know it he disappears under the sign for his concourse. An ugly cry starts and I will my feet to move; if I don't start walking, I may never leave.
I navigate through the crowds, alone, and focus on how I feel. I let the tears and the snot flow and steadily make my way outside.
My lungs are full but I keep trying to sip more air; I feel like I am suffocating. I let the tears flow and I feel the tension of trying to hold myself together begin to release.
I'm both all of the happy/proud/excited emotions and I'm sad. And as long as I am lucky enough to live, and if I am lucky enough to not outlive my sons, I suspect I always will.