It's an early morning in August; just two more weekends before my son leaves for college. His list reads: refrigerator, shower sandals, extra-long sheets, plastic soap dish, laptop -- at least 17-inch screen, no firearms. Before he was born our list was diapers, crib bumpers and blunt nail scissors.
He knows not to wash whites and darks together, not to eat fries every day, drink enough water, drive slowly and sober and not to be late for class, job or the dentist. He doesn't know what it will be like to no longer bump into me in the kitchen, beat his brother in Ping-Pong, let the puppy out and remind me to buy more ketchup. The blare of his car stereo will no longer rock me awake and the sounds of football will be absent every Sunday. It is the loss of just living together.
I watch him by the kitchen counter, slicing a small piece of avocado, a dollop of goat cheese atop a sesame seed cracker, when it only used to be Big Macs. He chews and leans just like my husband. They both have long legs, khaki shorts just above the knee. My son's shorts now fit him, his boxers kept neatly out of sight. He works at a clothing store and finds good deals for his younger brother, talks to his 11-year-old sister like a normal person, drops her at friends' houses, and asks me how I felt after my latest 10K race. Who is this really nice man in my kitchen?
Yesterday he wasn't here.
I never finished reading the paper the morning the middle school principal called. "Hello, Ned Simons here, I have your son, Ben, in my office." I drove recklessly out to school for a discussion on the pros and cons of cigarette smoking before first period. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and all I wanted to do was stick him back in the cart, his pudgy hands holding the cart tightly and smiling at the Cheerios I chose off the shelf.
Instead, I screamed about cancer and ranted about trust issues. My son sullenly asked for pepperoni Hot Pockets.
Not too long after, he was turning 16 and we were at a police auction bidding $80 for his first car, a rusty white Toyota with two broken headlights. Then he got his first job sacking groceries, his first girlfriend with straight blond hair, ACTs, SATs and two speeding tickets. Suddenly he was handing me his high school diploma in a blue padded folder.
He tentatively says, "Mom, no offense, but I think I want only Dad to take me to school." My friends tell me it's normal not to want your "mommy" at college, especially if she does that crying thing. What he doesn't know is that his father will also do the crying thing. When he lost his umbilical cord, I remember joking about the next step being college. His bedroom is losing its messy luster, and new socks and boxers lie next to folded T-shirts, shorts and oversize tennis sneakers without blinking lights in the heel.
His plane leaves in two weeks, the first day my daughter starts middle school and my other son enters 10th grade. For so long I have worked to be attentive and involved, and now this Jewish mother has to learn to let go. I am an emotional surveyor, always trying to measure accurate distance from my children, each one needing different distances at different times. The college distance is new, making me want to stand on my tiptoes and kiss the cheek of this gentle man in my kitchen who leans down with a smile that says, "Goodbye, Mom."