Kiddo has been home for a little over six weeks now, and it’s begun to feel normal, which is wonderful and also strange. We’re a year into this college thing now, and it seems designed to keep everyone slightly off- kilter, which is not as unpleasant as that might sound. When she first left it was so disconcerting; there was a her- shaped hole in our lives, and we kept everything almost precisely the same for a time, just waiting to see how things felt before we made any changes. Later, we began to shift things around in our own lives— carefully moving our routines, seeing how things felt, trying on new habits and then throwing everything out and starting again from scratch.
As soon as we started to feel somewhat settled with our new roles, she was home for Winter Break, which was gloriously long— about five weeks of family time. We nested and settled into our old familiar family patterns— wonderful, comforting, and absolutely bizarre, of course, as she’d just begun getting used to college, and we’d just begun getting used to life without her at home. She left again, and we got into the work of building a life with her at a small remove in a more serious way. We watched Hannibal on Fridays and Walking Dead each Sunday together via frantic allcaps texts and meme wars. We found our own routines, over time, and it worked.
The rearrangement when she comes home for the summer, that’s been odd; I hadn’t realized how quickly Sam and I became accustomed to this new way of living, and suddenly the house seems so much more full, so much brighter with her in it. We wake before she does, at 6 am (because we are old people who wake with the sun, as she likes to remind us) and the house seems quiet and a little too large, which is a funny thing to say about less than 1500 sq feet of house, but it’s true, too. It feels as though we are living two different lives; our quietly happy, just- the- two- of- us life, and a boisterous, joyfully laughing, all- three- of- us life, too.
She is spending half- a- week house- sitting for a friend of ours, caring for cats and playing house with her boyfriend, which leaves us again playing Empty- Nesters. We quietly putter about, fail to remember how to cook for two, make up voices for our animals— oh, we’re those people, I’m not ashamed— and marvel again at the way our lives seem split in two. I like it, the unexpected switching- up of everything, the way I anticipate her arrivals, and of course we all know that in just a few years this will end, so there’s a preciousness to this, too; it’s like a weaning period, a titration. It’s good to have this period of adjustments, on both sides.
The entire process of separation is a tricky one; we carefully look for the areas in which we’ve failed and try to correct now, and it’s bittersweet on all sides, because we all know what’s happening, of course. She’s working through some physical therapy for a hip/knee issue, nothing major but an uncomfortable inconvenience, and when I realized that she didn’t know exactly how to call in a doctor’s referral, I asked her to listen in while I made the call so that she could learn how to do this for herself in the future. It isn’t a big or difficult thing to do, but we’d never done this before— a total failing on our part. Managing insurance and getting the best care you can find, especially in a larger metropolis, that can be tricky. There are specific questions to be asked: is there public transport at this location, does this specialist actually specialize in my exact condition, what is the patient load like lately, how hard is it to secure follow- on appointments? Agh, I should have been all over this two years ago, damnit.
In doing these things, we’re all conscious of this undercurrent of training: we are making sure you’re really ready, Kiddo. These are our Last Few Important Things. It isn’t a cut- off, by any means, but there are some Big Deal Lessons that we want to be sure we haven’t missed- the things that we felt stumped by when we were finally on our own, the things that the military either held our hands on or beat into our heads. It emphasizes the inevitable, though, and that’s painful, too. All three of us rebel a little over it at times. Separation isn’t as simple as it seems it should be, even when you know it isn’t forever. More of all that change business, I’m guessing— change being so good sometimes, keeping us flexible and pliant and mobile, and also afraid, and clinging, and worried about the future.
I try not to write too much about Kiddo these days— it seems a little invasive, her being an adult now— but these relationship and how they evolve- and our family and how it has changed- these things are so key lately. This has been a source of endless fascination over the last year; it just keeps transforming- something relationships are always doing, of course, but lately with such breathtaking speed. She comes home from college with the smell of New England in her hair and full of so many new ideas and so much news and our lives are suddenly so full of her, her, and mostly only her. I mean, we’re doing other things, living our lives, working and knitting and dogs and friends and museums and concerts and books and all our normal middle- aged fun stuff, but mostly it’s just her. It’ll be interesting to see how these transitions work out over time.
Change, as the theme of this year, is both frightening and fascinating; I’m much more into the idea of transformation over a gradual period, but life has its own way. This part— this piece of change, and how it’s happening to the three of us— I’m enjoying very much. I’d been so worried over it a year ago, having no frame of reference, and I still fret at times, because the unknown can be a worrisome place, but it seems surer now. We have language for what this looks like, which mistakes we make, how we correct; we have procedures and in-jokes and our-places. This isn’t Terra Incognita anymore.