My oldest child recently flew out of the nest and landed in a new state. I knew the time was coming and I also knew that it would be difficult for me because I am a very emotional person who is quite attached to her three “babies”. Moreover, I’m pretty rooted---I’ve lived my entire life in the same state within an hour’s drive from my own parents. But my son wanted to spread his wings and he planned his move to his new state for months.
On his last day home he eagerly packed his car up with all of his worldly belongings. I tried hard to exhibit excitement for him and not let him see me cry. That day all I heard in my mind was Carrie Underwood singing “Don’t Forget to Remember Me”. As the hour of departure loomed in front of me I took all that pent up despair and let it loose in violent wails. I handed him money for gas and told him not to forget to remember me. #emotionaltrainwreck
I can’t believe we birth them, raise them for 20 some years and then they just leave us. What kind of bull---- is that? I wallowed in my misery with occasional spurts of anger.
As I walked into his bedroom after he pulled out of the driveway, it was completely empty, save for the garbage he left for me to dispose of, and a shelf lined with his childhood trophies. Baseball, soccer, honor roll. . . I collapsed onto his floor wondering where had all the time gone? My son had taken all of his worldly possessions for his new apartment but in the movies the childhood bedroom remains the same, the parents stay in the same home and the kids come to visit where they grew up. I began to panic thinking I had failed as a parent by not having him leave his bedroom intact so he could have a perfect homecoming visit.
I cried nonstop for several days in a row. I couldn’t work, eat or sleep. It felt like a part of me had died. And yes, I have two other children but a piece of me had loaded everything into a car and driven over a thousand miles away making me realize that I was no longer whole. For twenty-one and a half years I had been a whole person with all my babies in one protected nest. Now. . .well now was the beginning of the end of that. In a few years they would all be off onto their own adventures and I would have to figure out how to transition to this new phase of life. I didn’t want this phase.
A few weeks later our new foursome set off with a U-Haul in tow to bring some furniture and belongings to my son. I had 1,200 miles to sort through my feelings and come to terms with this new life. There’s something about a road trip that is restorative to the soul. Miles of open roadway, scenery and music stimulating your subconscious with a chance to work out everything that is wrong. Reunited with my son I felt stronger than when he had left. I felt I had already grown into this new role of “my oldest child moved out”. But visiting my son in his new apartment, a space that he was in charge of and where he could do anything he wanted, I realized something else:
The things that we had taught him for twenty-one years had helped to form the person he had become.
There on the counter in his new kitchen was the same olive oil that his mom uses at home. I don’t know why but that bottle of olive oil stuck in my mind and I continued to think about it for a long time. He even bought it at the same store that I shop at for our family, going out of of his way to locate that store to shop at. I chuckled because I think he only came grocery shopping with me once in the last few years.
I always worried about my kids going on their own and not knowing how to cook and being stuck eating Ramen for every meal. So I made sure to try and pass on to them the skills I obtained from my Italian grandmother. As much as I could anyways. In middle school when they took home economics it was easier ---they actually wanted to be in the kitchen and found it fun to learn. But in high school their time was consumed with friends, school, texting and video games. It was simply a struggle to get them to take their turn with dishes, let alone to participate in cooking meals.
But there in my son’s kitchen, amongst the olive oil and the new frying pans, were seasonings and fresh veggies. I remember when I was teaching him to always properly season his food before and during cooking, not afterwards, and I had thought at that time that he was barely listening as his attention was turned to how to escape the kitchen. Yet, he did listen. Proper seasonings and olive oil aren’t things you typically find in a 21 year old’s new apartment. He didn’t even have a dresser and his clothes were strewn all over the floor---but he did possess brown rice and a pepper grinder. For twenty-one years some of our most meaningful conversations happened in the kitchen. The kitchen is truly the heart of our home with the focus on freshly prepared family meals every night. The kitchen was where we laughed while playing a family game of spoons on a rainy day. It was where everyone anxiously awaited Thanksgiving dinner and snacked on appetizers spread out on the long kitchen counter while taking peeks into the oven. It is where we come together as a family every night at 6:30 pm no matter what else is going on in the world. It's where the water fights happened with the sprayer from the sink, where we sometimes met at midnight with the munchies and talked while sitting on the counter. The family kitchen is the constant in our lives. There, in my son's kitchen, were the memories of our family kitchen shining bright.
Our children have twenty-one years, give or take, under our wings before they fly solo. They will continue to grow and learn for the rest of their lives but our biggest influence will come while they are young and have a chance to observe us every day. They soak it all up---all the “speeches” and experiences, the trainings and family traditions. We are raising little people that will likely go on to carry on the same family traditions, cook the same food and do things in the manner we taught them during those formative years. What do we want them to know? Who do we want them to be? This is great head conversation for a 1,200 mile road trip and helped me plan the next few years with my remaining baby birds.
After this experience I now know that my son will never forget to remember me---I will always be in his head and his heart. Whether we’re talking on the phone or he’s in the store wondering what type of olive oil he should buy---the things I have taught him will remain with him for the rest of his life. He showed me that those kitchen memories are also important to him, and someday he will go on to teach them to his own children. Maybe he will teach them how to make their Grandma's spaghetti sauce and they will also play spoons at the kitchen table. I guess that's why it must happen, why they must leave----so it can all continue on and on and on. . .