Moving and Growing

Originally Appeared in : Vol. 100 No. 02

Charlie left for school last week, heading back to finish his second year away at college. We loaded him up Friday afternoon and the two of us headed out for the very pleasant drive from Augusta to Statesboro.

Charlie’s school is just close enough that it doesn’t feel too painful to make the drive. It’s in a quiet enough town that I don’t feel too overwhelmed at the thought of leaving him there. Also, my boy is having such a good experience in general that I don’t feel too sad when I get back in the car and make the drive home alone.

So many feelings, which is the story of this season.

I was quite proud of myself, mystified really, at my cavalier attitude that Friday. We drove to his dorm, unloaded his things, and made note of what he still needed for the semester. Because the trip is kinda quick (not really, but not too long either) I made arrangements for Henry and Isabel to play with friends until I got home. I needed to turnaround quickly to pick them up. I hugged Charlie and told him I was proud of him and left without helping him unpack. He’s got this, he’s capable and doing great.

As I drove down the highway, headed home, I reflected on how weird it was that I didn’t feel sad. Charlie’s roommates weren’t back yet, so there he was all alone in a dorm that could have used a little TLC before these four dudes left for Christmas. A month ago, it would have been good to throw out those fast food leftovers, maybe wipe down the bathroom real quick before leaving.

But this is a part of the new season of children getting bigger and learning independence and also, the joy of me not needing to micromanage so many details. My child was safe and warm and just because the cleaning standards weren’t the same as mine, I didn’t need to fret.

Two days later, once I had gotten Charlie’s room at home back to normal, different feelings set in. When Charlie is away at college, his room becomes the guest room (because when he left for college, a younger sibling inherited his old room, big family problems). I washed the bedding and vacuumed the floor and the space was back to its nice and neat state.

And I got a lump in my throat.

Charlie is gone, Christmas season is over. Life goes on but it pinches just a bit.

In this season of life, it’s a lot of coming and going. I have three boys in college, one high school senior and the two littles (who let’s be honest aren’t that little anymore). No one has “launched” — and my back door is more of a revolving entry. Someone home for a few weeks here and there, all of them in the midst of working toward their goals.

It’s exciting, and exhausting — but also a little emotional at times. A clean, empty bedroom can signify Charlie off tackling another semester of college, but it can also mean Charlie gone, not in my home with his joy and energy. If I go down the rabbit hole of “loss” — of focusing on the emptiness instead of the adventure, I can get very sad indeed.

It’s okay to admit that change is hard. Even though I’m mostly excited about it all, there are moments, here and there, when I see the clean bedroom or the quieter dining table and I get sad. I miss the times when all day, every day, my six kids were under my care.

But I know that life goes on and it’s wonderful. I often remind myself that if my own parents had been given the power to stop time, they may have been tempted. Maybe they would still have their eight kids home with them, but they would have missed the joy of their grown kids — seeing dreams realized, careers discovered, beautiful spouses found and so many grandchildren ushered into our family.

I’m not there yet, but I have to remember that while change sometimes hurts (even for a minute) it is good. Be not afraid. As always, those words bring me comfort.

Rachel Balducci is a wife and mother of six. She and her husband Paul are members of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Augusta, GAga. Her latest book, Make My Life Simple, is available on Amazon.

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