|Drop-off day everywhere|
At this point last week, we were preparing to fly Sam to his Elon drop-off.
Today, I'm looking back on that drop off; the parking lot introductions to other parents, the move-in teams with their maroon t-shirts imprinted with "You bELONg here", the trips and return trips and final trips to Target for trash can liners, Clorox wipes, power strips and hampers. The "Goodbye," or, in my case, the "I love you. Thank you. And behave." The trip back home, the cliche-quiet inside the cliche-empty nest.
I fed the cat, unpacked, went through the mail and logged on to Facebook.
"What now?" posted a parent-friend of mine.
Whether you've launched the first child and don't know what to expect or like we have, launched the last child and look forward to the full-length, uninterrupted conversations of olde with your spouse, that big question of "what now" hangs like fog beyond the headlights. Inside it are little murkier ones: questions of new identities, roles, validation, and purpose. Interestingly, they parallel the very questions our brand new college students will come to ponder, as soon as they get over the fact that NOBODY cares what time they come in, what they eat, or how often they launder their clothes.
I wanted to write back to my parent-friend, "Clean his room, lol!" but a two-word post like "What now?" is too poignant for a glib response like that, so I considered the more banal, "It's a new education for us too," or, "Join a club! Take a class! Run for office!" Finally,I decided that whatever I said would not be helpful, and would probably be insensitive.
"Never miss an opportunity to shut up," is some of the best advice I've heard. As a drop-off veteran, those opportunities are everywhere right now.
Except that I want to help.
And I want to help because I didn't ease gently onto this little path - I was shoved from behind when our two oldest left for college at the same time.
I recall how lost and fragile and weepy I was over my own two-word plight of "what now" and how I struggled for new normalcy until finally, in the middle of a conversation with my best friend about whether to make scrambled eggs with water or milk I broke down. "Every single day, I loved them and every single day it showed in the people they are," I sobbed. "Where will I put all of that now?" My very startled friend was silent. "I mean, you know, so it shows?" I clarified. Her next reaction, while not technically helpful, turned me around just the same.
"Oh my God. It is freaking me out right now to see you this upset."
It made me think of how dogs are when their owners cry or get upset or gasp or show fright. They prance and whimper and pace in little circles because they know they can't say anything useful. They just hope with their entire being that you will go back to reading the paper or making a sandwich or having a glass of wine or whatever you have to do to calm the hell down. This visual made me laugh, which made me feel better. In the days that followed, the urgency of "what now" waned and the comfort of easier routines - all the result of lighter days and fewer worries - eclipsed my anxiety altogether.
Time simply passed.
Whether we're parents wondering where to put our parent-love now so it shows, or college students meandering through small talk with strangers, wondering who will be their next best friend, in only weeks from now, maybe in only days, we will know. We have already begun to churn the unfamiliar into the familiar, we will soon allow new relationships to show their potential, and the question of "what now" will have been left behind.
It is a certainty.
But it doesn't happen because we wish it would.
It happens in time.
Let time pass.
And as noted by Coldplay's Chris Martin, be happy with what lies ahead as you discover, "just who you were."