I sent my youngest and his twelve year old brother off to camp for the first time today. He was a little quavery as he got ready to go. He was worried about who would take care of his dog, Molly, whether there would be any kids there who would like him, what he would do at the swimming pool because he can't swim well yet, and what would happen if he woke up at night and couldn't find the bathroom. I answered all his questions, properly threatened his older brother if he picked on him, and assured him that Molly would just bunk in with one of his teenager brothers. He was still looking pretty iffy when he walked out the front door. I knew I had to help him make the transition.
So I hammed it up, I rushed out to the car just as they were buckling themselves in, wailing that I wanted him to stay home and that it wasn't fair that he was going to go off and have lots of fun and I couldn't go too. I waved my hands wildly in the air and pleaded for him to let me come too. I did this until he and his older brother started giggling and clowning around, adding their voices to the calamity. Their dad pulled the car out of the driveway and, as they drove away, I could see them, heads back against the seats,eyes on me, hands waving, mouths wide with laughter.
Then I went inside and got quavery myself. Okay, in truth, I cried a little. Maybe more than little, but I'm not saying for sure.
This is the thing about parenting that's the hardest to explain to those without children. As we cheer them on through first steps, first words, first laps across the pool,first bike rides, first days at school and first trips away from home, ever encouraging them to move away from us, there is some part of us that's always being torn in two. With every milestone they need us less and with every milestone we ache witht the knowledge that some day they will walk, swim, pedal and drive out of reach,off to college, to places of their own, into lives of their own. If we do our jobs right, they will only occasionally need us--and then only as a touch stone.
Sam, my youngest, is eight. That gives us roughly ten more years before he officially leaves home for college and it is suddenly not long enough. Do you know the mph of a lifetime? I don't think I really understood it until I had kids. It's about the same as light speed to a parent: a few minutes ago he was born, now he going to camp, in another few minutes he'll leave home.
I told my husband this morning that I wanted another baby and, while he's always in favor of more kids (he wanted six originally--I was the one who decided four was plenty), he ruffled my hair and kissed me and said, "And what happens when that one goes off to camp? Are you going to have another then too? It's not going to stop them all from growing up, Honey."
I hate it when he's right.