My son is now an adult. Full-fledged, old-enough-to-drive-a-car, vote-for-president, register-for-the draft, walk-into-a bar-and-order-a-beer adult. Life is truly different now.
A few weeks ago he and I flew across the country together for a long weekend. Just the two of us in a new city with our backpacks filled with our laptops, a change of clothes, a room reservation and a very loose idea of a few things we might want to do.
Our son, now a junior in college, rarely comes home these days. Yes, I know this is both normal and healthy, but no matter how much you truly understand this, you always feel as if your family is slightly out of kilter. Although my wife and I still share our home with our teenage daughter, I believe we all share the same feelings about this stage. Heck, even our dog will pause at our son’s door looking longingly into his room for a playing partner.
Walking through the airport with my son on that day of our departure I found myself noticing a wall near a coffee shop as we approached the security check-in area. Immediately I thought of a snapshot on display in our home of he and his sister standing together – he in first grade and his sister still a couple years from joining him in school. He’s serious, and she, as usual, is not. I still laugh when I see the photo. If I remember right, they’d gone to the airport to see their grandfather fly back to his home.
Only on this particular day, fast-forward 15 years, my world is much different.
With the confidence only earned from inside, he strides across the open area, carefully navigating his way through the crowd. Flashing back to the picture on display in my head, I fight the natural parental urge to race to keep him close. Not too many years ago I might’ve required he and his sister to stay within arms length so they’d not get separated or lost in the crowd. Today, however, he does not need my assistance or protection in an airport – or any crowd at this time.
When he moved away to college, my parental emotions were engaged in a difficult battle with the logical acceptance of time encouraging me to let him go. It is a strange feeling standing at the bittersweet crossroads where pain and pride cross.
After our plane landed, we found ourselves hiking and trekking though a city of millions of strangers. As concrete towers dwarfed each of us, we’d periodically find ourselves separated, as he might want to go find a coffee shop while I might want to duck into an art studio. But no matter how much I tried to shake the feeling of worrying about his safety, I could not. For me, I needed to learn to accept he was no longer the little boy in the picture in the living room.
There is, however, a happy ending to this story. When the wheels of the plane left the ground that first day, I was flying out with my son. When we returned a few short days later, I was traveling with my new best friend. The fact he was my son was merely a technicality.
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