A sock. Dirty and crumpled, it lies on the otherwise empty floor. I bend down to pick it up, mumbling that how difficult can it be, to put your dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, and why … I break off halfway through my little rant. He’s gone, off to do his own things in life. His room has been stripped of him and his belongings – except for the worn and rather stinky sock I have in my hand. I tighten my grip on this tangible memento of twenty or so years that have whizzed by in the blink of an eye. For an instant there, I think I might actually cry. I stuff the sock in my pocket and decide to do some vacuum cleaning instead.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with my kids moving out. Children are supposed to leave, to set off on their own adventures through life. The privilege every parent has is that of watching their helpless babies develop into young men and women, to sort of cartwheel with pride at the people they’ve become. So I smile and help them move their cardboard boxes, fill their fridge with enough food to fend off starvation for the coming fortnight and am generally quite cheerful and relaxed about things. But that first night when they’re no longer here, with me, when their rooms gape dark and empty, I can’t help it – I turn my face into the pillow and cry. Ridiculous, right? It’s not as if I want them to stay at home forever, and it’s going to be a major relief not to have to restock the fridge every other day, and look, no dirty socks, no huge trainers blocking the hallway, no trail of crumbs from the counter top to the kitchen table, to the living room, back to the kitchen.
There used to be a time when I was the sun around which my children revolved, when they’d come running to me with whatever problems they had and assume that I’d always be able to fix things. A short time admittedly, and by the time they move out, most children don’t see their parents as heroes, nor do their lives to any larger extent revolve around their progenitors. So off they go to create their own little solar systems – as they should – and we become the fading stars, twinkling in their background. Now and then they’ll drop by, often they’ll call, but they’re gone, and while they live constantly in my thoughts, I don’t think I am quite as present in theirs – nor would I want to be.
I turn off the vacuum cleaner, make myself a cup of tea and sit down at my pristine kitchen table, surveying pristine counter tops, crumb free floors (duh; I just vacuumed, didn’t I?) and sigh. I miss them; I miss their loud voices, they way they fill up a room with arms and legs, with laughter or ringing arguments. I miss seeing them extended on the living room carpet, doing homework while watching “How I met your mother”, I miss the hugs, the scratchy feel of newly (and badly) shaved cheeks rubbing against mine. I miss my daughter’s eye roll when I hold up a newly acquired garment for her inspection, and when I open the fridge there’s so much food, but no one to eat it all. (Well, there is one left at home, but unless he develops the appetite of a killer whale he’ll never get through all of that.)
I turn the sock over and stick my finger through the hole under the heel. It makes me smile, remembering a conversation with my children about the importance of always wearing clean and whole underwear.
“If you were in an accident, you know, if you fell off your bike or something, wouldn’t it be terribly embarrassing if there was a huge hole in your undies?” I said, parroting what my Mum used to say.
My six year old looked at me for a long time and then sighed. “If I were in an accident, I think I’d care more about holes in my head.”
Umm. Well, that sort of killed that angle …
Children are a miracle, little rays of enervating joy that we borrow for a while. And one day, we must open our hands to let the butterfly that is the adult child soar off on his own. Yes, the wings are fragile, and the winds are fierce, but we can but hope that they’ll cope. Most of them do, don’t they?