Ordinarily, when conservative columnist Michael Gerson puts pen to paper (or whatever the 21st century incarnation of that phrase is), I’m not so much inclined to share his opinion. But this past week, describing his feelings as his first-born went off to college, he had it spot-on.
“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.”
This is not the first time this realization is coming home to me; the Angler left for college four years ago, and even Rock Star has already completed a year away. But both times, it was just a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and Rock Star’s involvement with Wheels brought him home many weekends for gigs. I actually thought he needed to stay at school more!
This time, though, it seems more momentous, for there will be no spur-of-the-moment visits back to the Old Homestead – RS is headed off to France, pour apprendre le français par immersion totale (for the uninitiated, “to study French by total immersion”).
I’m feeling a whole constellation of emotions about this: sad because I’ll miss his company – yes, he’d be away most of the time anyway, but this is so far, and he won’t even be home for Christmas (yeah, yeah… boo-hoo, Mom); thrilled for him, because it will be such an adventure; and also envious! – who wouldn’t want to spend almost a year à l’université in the South of France?!
Various friends are in a similar situation right now, seeing one child off to college for the first time, or even becoming empty nesters. I suspect that for most, things will even out relatively quickly. My brother told me that although he and his wife were in tears on the way home from dropping their youngest at a far-away dorm, by the time they arrived home, they were laughingly making plans to turn her bedroom into a spa (never happened, and as occurs often these days, she ended up back in that room again for quite a while!).
Meanwhile, we’re all consoling each other with offers of company, coffee, wine, and the occasional crying towel. Lots of evocative songs are being passed around: two that I’ve shared are Lord Protect My Child (Dylan, but the version I like is sung by Susan Tedeschi) and Forever Young (Bob Dylan, the bard of our generation, gets it right yet again – this time with The Band, one of my favorite groups of all time – and the same for RS, coincidentally!). The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces was put out there by a good friend.
This last song reminded me so much of myself, running away from my Long Island roots to Vermont, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana – nothing seemed far enough away from my hackneyed and boring suburban existence. (And if it weren’t for my intended traveling companion’s parents stepping in at the last minute with the voice of reason, we would both have been in the Aleutian Islands, slaving away in a fish-canning factory!) I always needed new people, new places, exciting experiences, preferably with a backdrop of water, craggy mountains and primeval forests. The first time I left home, I loaded my backpack and fishing pole onto a Greyhound bus, eagerly and with hardly a backward glance, as my poor mom stood outside the window trying to put on a brave face – her girl was off to see the world (as she herself never had the chance to do up to that time).
I know intellectually that this is exactly what we hope for – that our children will be independent and adventurous – we give them roots so that they can sprout wings. It’s the very intention of the Gibran poem that I’ve always loved to pass on to new parents: “…You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth….” Easy to say, when your children are still safely ensconced in the nest.
I’m waiting for my heart to catch up with my mind.
Jerry and I will go over to France next spring and have Rock Star show us around his neighborhood and wow us with his language skills. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ll occupy myself with bringing my own French back up to speed and beyond (la dialogue normale is always a challenge).
And through it all, I’ll remind myself that je ne regrette rien!