This week, we’re cleaning out the backyard pond, getting it ready for the goldfish. Over the winter my seven 25-cent goldfish lived inside in a twenty gallon tank and grew quite large on a diet of store-bought fish pellets. I’m dragging my feet this year about turning them loose because I’ve become attached. I know all too well the possible dangers of setting them free in the backyard pond.
last year’s dirty pond water. It’s a pretty nasty and smelly job as the water has been sitting all winter with decaying leaves and squirmy insects. His efforts are a Mother’s Day “gift.” It’s a job that he’s helped me with before because a five gallon bucket of water (even half full) is heavy and he makes the work look easy. He’s not happy about the yuckiness of the task, but he’s doing it anyway.
The first week home from college can be a rocky transition for all involved. After ten months apart we’re re-merging very different lifestyles under one roof. Our housekeeping standards couldn’t be more different. He’s up at noon and goes to bed at 4 am. I get up an hour later at 5 am to get ready for work. Our lives are so alien, we might as well be from two different planets.
This goes on for several years, the coming and the going. It’s tough when they leave. You worry about them, you miss their habits and humor. And it’s tough when they come back home and you try to work them back into your life, into a daily routine that hasn’t included them in a while. I think back on the early days and what was required when they first came into my life, a malleability of spirit, a willingness to change myself and my ways, and of course the kind of love that makes you put your own needs on hold for a while. Every time they come home for summer, they are more adult, more their own person with their own opinions and emerging values. Surprisingly, I seem to have to muster up that same type of willingness as when they first arrived.
When they are away, you begin to build your life around their absence. You find more things to do because you have more time. You spend more time with friends to keep from getting lonely. You adjust your budget to the lowered costs of living alone. You adjust your grocery list (ramen, peanut butter and waffles removed). You take up more space, redecorating and putting your little personal touch on every room, not just your own.
When they come home for summer, they’re like strangers, people you barely know. They’ve developed likes and dislikes you would have never imagined – like when they ask you to buy Sriracha next time you go to the store and you have to ask, what the heck is that? Their things overflow the space of the bedroom they once slept in before when they were young. They take over the family room like a dorm community room and stay up until dawn watching movies and playing video games. You nod to the aftermath as you leave for work in the morning thinking, “There’s no way I’m cleaning up after them.” But you know you will because you can’t stand the mess anymore (not like you could when they were little), and you certainly aren’t willing to fight about it since they will only be around a couple of months.
K, my youngest will also be leaving at the end of this summer for his first year at MCAD and I will have the house entirely to myself for the first time in 23 years. It will probably be nice for the first week or two. I will make the bathroom spotless, the clutter will be hidden away and the dishes all cleaned. After a while, it will seem too quiet. I’ll put on some music and light a candle. The refrigerator will have a lot of room, as will my heart.
Like when the two before him left, K’s going will be a challenge for me. I have become attached to him. But go he must, out into the world like the others where they are shaped (without my help) into people of substance.