Acetaminophen. Shampoo. Bug spray.
My firstborn is leaving for college, but not before we make some headway on our massive to-do list. We took care of the sheets, the towels, the loan applications, the whole terrifying choosing-a-major thing. Really, we’re down to the little things now.
But every time we sit down to put together a final list, I find myself unable to focus. And so I’m up at 5 a.m., alone with my cup of coffee, trying to put together a list while the kids are still asleep.
The school told us to bring a first aid kit. Okay, that shouldn’t be hard. Antibiotic ointment. Hydrogen peroxide. Bandages — but when was the last time he needed a bandage? I realize I don’t know. I can’t remember the last time I helped him clean off a scraped knee, applied a bandage and a kiss. I suppose he cleans his own cuts now.
Tylenol. He’ll need that, definitely, so I add it to the list. But that thought takes me back to the awful day when he toddled in the kitchen and announced “I dwink medicine, mama,” flashing an empty bottle of Tylenol in his chubby fist.
I focus on that for a while, remembering how I struggled with the guilt afterward — had I not screwed the cap on tightly enough? Had I not put the bottle far enough out of reach? Mom guilt is a powerful emotion, and I still remember how sick I felt that day in the hospital as they force-fed my toddler syrup of ipecac.
Maybe he’ll need some of that scar cream, in case he gets a bad cut? I remember applying it to his head after the dog attack, when he had those huge puncture wounds on the top of his head. It didn’t work though — he still has the scars from that day. As do I.
He’ll need razors and shaving cream. But how is it that he shaves now? I still think of him sometimes as that small baby boy who needed me to cut his nails. (I couldn’t do it. Those tiny fingernails terrified me, so I relegated the job of trimming them to my husband.)
I look back at the school shopping list. A sewing kit, really? Was I supposed to teach him to sew? Because it seems I forgot to do that. Is it too late? We have a few weeks. And what else have I forgotten to teach him? I taught him to drive — but he can’t bring a car to school. I taught him to cook — but he won’t have a kitchen. Did I teach him all the wrong things? What if he’s not ready for this? What if I’m not ready for this?
Somewhere along the way, I explained to him that it’s important to be kind. To look out for people who may need your help. To work hard. To think big. To laugh. But did he take all this in? Does he know how to do it? Perhaps I need to sit down and explain all of this, again. Or write him a letter? Or maybe there’s a book I can buy for him, for me — something that explains everything he’s going to need to know, everything I forgot to tell him.
Does he need a new alarm clock? He doesn’t always wake up to the one he has. Does he need a warm coat? I doubt he’d wear it. Does he need — I can’t believe I even have to think about this — condoms? Have I taught him enough about girlfriends, about the dangers of unprotected sex? About drinking and drugs and all the things that could be happening at college when I hope he’s holed up at the library studying?
I remember the day we taught him how to ride a bike. We set aside a whole morning to practice. My husband helped him strap on the big boy helmet while I went in the house to find a camera with which to record his first efforts at riding. I figured I’d get lots of blurry pictures of him on the ground, under the wheels, or pictures of my husband walking beside him, holding the bike. But by the time I got back outside with the camera, it was too late. They’d gone a few steps together, he and his dad, before my husband let go and my son was off on his own, flying down the road, laughing.
I’d assumed he would crash a few times before figuring it out. I’d guessed he would need our help all morning long. But no — he figured out what to do and rode away from us before I even had a chance to snap a photo.
It’s been like that ever since. He figures something out and he rides off into the distance, leaving me to watch his progress and wonder about this little person emerging before my eyes. I’m never quite ready for what he’s becoming. Never quite ready to snap that photo before he’s on to the next thing.
He’s ready for this, even if I’m not. He’s not worried about what should go in his first aid kit — he’ll figure it out as he goes along, as we all do.
I set my list aside. I don’t need it. I do need a button and some needles and thread, though. When he wakes up, I’m going to teach him to sew.