Within hours of returning home from taking our youngest son, Nick, to college, I was sick. The kind of fever, chills, sore-throat sick that I hadn’t experienced in years. We’d had a whirlwind week of packing, commuting, cleaning, and moving. In Brooklyn, at the only Target in town, every parent and student from miles around appeared to be stocking up for the year. People were grabbing things off shelves before someone else grabbed them first. It was an all-out school-supply war in a city not known for personal space, and I figured it was only a matter of time before I picked up somebody’s crud. Or before it all just caught up with me.
The only upside to my illness was that I was mostly stuck in bed, which meant I didn’t venture into the kids’ bedrooms. This, in turn, delayed my experiencing a completely childless home—at least from a visual standpoint. In the days that followed our return, in addition to suppressing my sneezing with antihistamines, I had to suppress the desire to call or text Nick.
My husband and I were checking with each other constantly to see if our son had communicated something…anything. Me: “Did you hear anything?” Him: “No, you?” I knew from experience that making the shift to being the parent of a young adult who no longer lives in the same house takes some practice. You can’t ask them about their day, every day—about whom they met, what they learned, if they liked the movie they saw or the book they read—and it hits hard. You go from mostly knowing where they are and what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with to…zilch. The first week, you go through withdrawal. It’s like having had chocolate every day of your life, your entire life, and then not being able to have the tiniest taste. And you really love chocolate.
But they do communicate eventually, and much like learning to interpret a newborn’s cries, you learn to read their moods based on their method of communication. Phone calls are for expressing extremes such as happiness or sadness, though occasionally, they can be used for describing something so detailed it’s just plain easier to say it on the phone. Emails are for forwarding other emails that are usually about money or for giving a heads-up about something that occurs to them at 3:00 in the morning. Texts are for laundry questions and HAHA-type things—which I must admit, I began to enjoy once I realized that HAHA does not mean someone is being sarcastic but is actually smiling or laughing (and cooler than the LOL I had only just recently gotten used to).
When our oldest first went away to college, I tried to ease the transition by sending him occasional text messages and pictures of our dog, Benjamin. Sometimes I put a hat on him. Sometimes he was just Benjamin doing what he does best—sleeping or playing with his toys. Fortunately, the dog is wonderfully compliant, though he often looks at me as if to say, “Seriously?” And sometimes he “disses” me—looks away just when I snap the picture. And the photos of him doing this—doing anything, really—always inspire a HAHA reply from my son, so much so that if I haven’t sent a photo of Benjamin in a while, he’ll ask for one.
Of course, I know what his request for pictures of Benjamin mean, just as he knows what I mean when I send them. And that’s the beauty of it—nary a word has to be said.
Up until last week when he left for his freshman year at college, Nick only texted me when he was going to be late for dinner, needed ten dollars, or forgot something at school. But two days after taking him to college—and pacing the floor a few thousand times, waiting for something, anything—I received this text message: “Mom, when you have time today, can you text me a picture of Benjamin?”
I sent him two.
Excerpt adapted from: From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life by Melissa T. Shultz.