Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Empty Nest Bar and Grill

You guys. I don't know how to put this. But Birdy? That tiny little baby girl? SHE WENT TO COLLEGE. I mean. What? I realize I've been a little, er, quiet here. All I've got is links to old stuff about my kids leaving. This, for example. And this

And this piece, which I wrote for Family Circle when Ben left. Cutting and pasting since I can't find it online. Come find me on Instagram, though, please. I know lots of you are in the same boat, not coincidentally. I am sending so much love. So much.

The Stuff of Motherhood

Before he was born, I counted eensy pairs of socks. “Do we have enough socks?” I asked the baby’s father. “Do babies even wear socks? Suddenly I can’t picture a baby with socks on.” His father shook his head, baffled by the accumulation of miniature clothing for a hypothetical person who was only, at that point, a stubborn guest overstaying his welcome in my body’s cramped guest quarters. 

We lived in a sunny room in a friend’s California arts-and-crafts bungalow, and I sorted our accumulated hand-me-downs obsessively: the jog stroller, the duck-printed nighties with their oddly elasticized bottoms, the Scandinavian mobile with its black and white faces, the sweaters and jeans and Air Jordans, sized 0-3 months. (A 0-month old! We would have that.) I counted diapers and washcloths, hooded towels and snap-crotch onesies and crib sheets. I inspected the breast pump, which appeared to have been designed by a sadist who gave up sadism for engineering but then still turned out to be secretly a sadist. 

In the absence of the actual baby, there were the baby’s things. Only, then the baby came, and the stuff was like the punchline of a joke. Who even cared about any of it? He wouldn’t go in the jog stroller! He never slept in the crib! He did smile at his Scandinavian friends, but mostly he lived in our arms and wore whatever, and we passed him around like a bong, like we were high and getting higher, drunk on the baby’s scalp smell and smile. 

And it’s happening again now, in reverse. This glorious grown person, this golden ball who has rolled glowingly through our lives for 18 years, is getting ready to go—and all I can think about is stuff. In the absence of the actual absence, there are the leaving person’s things: the shampoo and toothpaste, the pens and notebooks and wheeled plastic under-bed storage bins. And the bedding. The bedding! I am obsessed with the bedding. “Is twin xl just the size of the fitted sheet? Or do you need an xl top sheet too?” The baby’s father shakes his head, shrugs. He loves the boy, but doesn’t know or, especially, care about college dorm bedding specifications. 

I go to Marshall’s and study the bedding like it’s material I’ll be tested on in a class about the anatomy of loss. Does a mattress cover go over or under a foam topper—or is the foam topper instead of it? Google these questions and find yourself in a forest full of lost mothers, calling out to each other in their grief and fear, except the only language available to them is percale.

On drop-off day, I make his bed while his roommate’s mother makes her son’s bed, and we laugh at ourselves. I understand the expression “lump in your throat” with sudden urgency. There is a rock in my throat, an anvil. There is the piano in my throat that I watched him play last night, his sister on guitar beside him, perfection threaded through with dread, weighted down with this lump in my throat. The many things unpacked and put away, the toiletries stashed, the giant socks piled in a drawer, the sheets pulled tight. He came into our lives two weeks late, but now he’s leaving right on time, and we’re supposed to graciously show him the door. We’ve been running alongside his bike for 18 years and we’re supposed to wave cheerfully as he turns into a pedaling speck in the distance. He is our nurtured sparrow, and we are flinging our arms open to return him to the wild, where he belongs.

And all I can do is text him later. “Is your bed comfortable?” I write, and he writes back immediately, “So comfortable! Thank you.”