I have been in mourning for the last two days. Middle and Mate left on Friday and I wept all day. I was particularly sad because Middle was uncharacteristically sad himself about leaving. He has always been the one child of ours that I could rely on to be incredibly excited about any new adventure. I remember when he went to camp for the first time in third grade. I was weeping and he was nothing but keyed up and excited. He is always the first one up and ready for any trip, no matter how early in the morning we are departing. His bags are packed, his shower taken and his breakfast eaten before his brothers roll groggily out of bed.
Not this time. Friday morning, when I went into his room at 5AM and crawled under the covers to watch him pack his computer and iPod into his backpack, he immediately stopped what he was doing and crawled back into bed with me. Mutt, who has an unerring nose for exchanges of love, joined us, arranged herself right between us and started snoring. I stroked Middle's hair and scratched his back and none of us wanted the moment to end.
Mate came and did his job of breaking things up to get them on the road.
Middle asked for the camera and we took pictures.
We stalled some more by me asking if he wanted some fresh OJ and him saying, "Yes."
It was dark when we finally walked out to the car.
The night before, as we all sat down outside for our last family dinner of the summer, a huge owl came and landed on the cedar tree at the edge of our yard. We all oohed and ahhhed as he swiveled his head almost all the way around and stared down at us all, gathered together. He screeched loudly – and often. We all wondered where the idea came that owls hoot. We wondered at how such a large bird could successfully perch on such a small branch. He stayed so long that we all got used to him – took his enormous presence for granted way up in the cedar. And only when he flew away on wide and silent wings did we notice him again, and marvel at his passage through the darkening sky.
The next morning, as Middle and I hugged in the dark driveway, the owl came back. It was so dark we couldn't see him, but his familiar call broke the canyon's silence right above us.
And as they drove away, it occurred to me that the owl had come to remind Middle that when he was in second grade he announced he wanted to be an ornithologist when he grew up.
I went inside, crying my eyes out.
To me, when Oldest left for college it was like a death. I know that is extreme. I know that when our kids go to away they are doing just what they are supposed to do. I feel proud of them. Proud of myself for mothering such amazing boys. Excited too – for their new life and my opportunity to revisit the person I was before I the miracle of their arrival.
But it still feels like a death.
When I came back from dropping Oldest off at college, I used to go into his closet and run my hands over his shirts. After they Middle and Mate left on Friday, I went back into Middle's room to catch the last warmth of his presence.
I spent most of the day crying on and off.
But then, when I sat down at my computer to busy myself with something, anything, a lovely surprise landed in my email inbox.
It was a video! Middle behind the wheel, his arm out the window, sunglasses on, music blaring, the Arizona desert flying by, happy, relaxed, himself, still here on the planet, just heading East.
That made me happier.
For a minute.