It seems no matter where I am on the web right now, someone somewhere is headed Back-to-School. Mothers are sad summer is over (or secretly not), healthy lunches are discussed (or those not so healthy tsk-tsked over), and teachers are settling in with yet another year’s classroom full of children. The smell of crayons and freshly sharpened pencils waft through the streets.
It’s ingrained in us, isn’t it? Going back to school each year — a season in and of itself barely resembling what it once was: a simple returning to class after work was done on a family farm. I have always wondered exactly what portion of the country’s population was actually affected by that. Did most of America live on farms? It doesn’t make sense, but I’m on a bird walk trying to escape the real point of my thoughts today.
My youngest son, who has been home all summer, will be headed back to school like seemingly everyone else this week. He’ll have a duffle bag and case for his laptop instead of a backpack and lunch box, and will be dropped off at the curb at the airport instead of a bus stop or school playground to wait for the morning bell. His dad will do the honors — he always does. And I will stay at home, my eye on the clock waiting for just the right moment to look out the front windows for the plane headed north I know he is on. I’ll watch it until I can’t see it any longer, and then I’ll go about the business of reacquainting myself with a house that has one less person in it again.
When I asked my son about whether he was excited for the new semester to begin, he said yes, that he was, and then paused. “My very last summer vacation,” he said looking at me with an expression I understood, remembering my own thoughts of those milestones in life. What I didn’t tell him was that this summer also marked my own last summer vacation — the one a parent experiences if she’s lucky enough to be at home instead of at work. I was at work or school — sometimes both for most of my three boys’ summer vacations and the memories are tinged with stress. Because I was not at home, I had to find a place for them — someone to watch them, a camp, something until they were old enough to take care of themselves.
It’s been a luxury the past many years to enjoy my youngest son’s company when he comes home during the summer. He’s a quiet young man — someone easy to be around. When he isn’t out with friends, in the evenings after his dad comes home, we eat dinner together and often watch television later, chatting about nothing in particular. Just enjoying the time. It’s great company, and I’ll miss it.
I know many parents have had to refluff the empty nest they once mourned because the economy hasn’t quite welcomed their bright and shiny college graduates. I also know that the once welcomed company of an adult child on summer break can lose its polish after the reality sets in that life expects certain things of us once we’re adults, and camping out at Mom & Dad’s waiting for a job to knock on the door probably isn’t the best plan. But I realized something myself this summer — something not too different from the familiar perspective with which I raised my children.
They are going to make their own best choices about their lives in their own time. I know so many who would immediately disagree with me for believing that. My oldest son would be one. He’s told me he wishes he’d not had the freedom to make those choices, yet of my three children, he was the one who most diligently managed himself in school.
I could have spent this summer cracking the whip and nagging my youngest about whether he’d gotten an internship, or summer job. Or I might have done a search for leads on both, then pointed him in the right direction before pushing him out the door. It is completely in my nature to want to do those things, but that behavior is completely contrary to what I believe. They have to make their own way. Isn’t that what we do in our own lives? Make our own way?
I have, and part of making my own way has been to enjoy the time I’ve had with my youngest on this very last of our summer vacations.
Here is to whatever is next along the way and to a life that makes time for a summer vacation.