Over the past two weeks Owen’s sisters Freya and Bronwyn packed up and left for college. And this year even his little brother Oskar is packing up, going away to school in Pennsylvania. All week there have been suitcases. And mom crying. Luckily most of the crying isn’t when Owen is home. His program continues, he catches his van at the end of the driveway in the morning, and arrives home at the end of the driveway in the afternoon, just as always. Who knows what he does in between. I am pretty sure his program is very boring. For now I just say a prayer over him, and put him on that van. For now I need someone else to keep him, so I can cry and help everyone move out. So I can process the thought that frightens me – being left alone eventually to care for Owen. Caring for him each morning and each night, and each weekend in silence. Our meals in silence, his busyness and intensity in silence, calling for him and hearing silence, without any of my comical and tender Simonses to make it funny when it isn’t, without that support group of “we” to share the really funny, or tender, or surprising things that happen in life with Owen. That’s what I have been afraid of since Owen was about 5, when I began to realize my baby wasn’t growing up. That’s what I lived one summer, alone with 11 year old Owen at a clinic in Atlanta.
But I want my children to go, and to grow. Oskar has been a wonderful last kid to have at home these past years, sharing the chores and telling us about his day – we thought we’d be unbearably lonely without the girls, but we adapted, and there was great satisfaction in being four. Now Osk has other fish to fry. He has grown too big for his nest. He must shed the old skin, and find out what lies beneath. They all need to get out and explore. I hope all my tears are not selfish, I tell myself, as I fold towels, help carry boxes, and iron name labels against Oskar’s will into his pants and shirts. I hope I have loved them for them, not as slaves to do my will. Not just as a security blanket against being alone.
Late yesterday afternoon, exhausted from crying and nonsleep, I took Owen and the dogs for a walk in our woods, when I should have been making supper. My tired husband began to cook for us, and I wandered out into the woods still lit up golden in the dying sun. Owen was happy – his wonderful Wednesday afternoon sitter Kathie had taken him to the Goodwill, and Owen picked out a Ken doll and Halloween bucket there. Ken’s arms were in Owen’s pocket, and he grinned for all of these reasons. He held Rascal the dog’s leash, and we walked the dogs over the familiar paths, over the roots and mud. The woods were darkening with the coming night; I knew we should have taken our walk an hour sooner. But the huge brown trunks of tulip poplars drew my eye upward, and way, way up the sun glowed in leaves gorgeous vibrant living green against the blue sky.
This morning, as I soaped Owen up in the tub, his gesture drew my attention to a tiny bit of wood floating in the water. Owen reached under the water, focused on picking up that tiny bit, and I stared at it too. Life slowed down in that moment … water swirl… light shine… and the bit, Owen’s fingers under it. It’s the small things, the details, that Owen notices. That’s his gift. He doesn’t see or understand the big picture, but the tiny things – the tiniest wood chip. A bit of leaf. A bit of trash. The simple rhythms – of taking apart, but also putting things away. If something has a box, he wants to put it in that box. Well, sometimes. Maybe this helps him to make sense of a world in which people come and people go, and he may not know why.
There’s something peaceful there.
Starting next week it will be Edward, Owen, and me around the supper table. Just Edward and me to share the chores – cooking and the clean up, the bathing, and dressing, the watching of Owen, the doggy walks and gardens and closing up the chickens at night. Just three of us on a weekend outing. It will be lonely at first, but probably it will be ok. And at least as Edward said last night, suddenly there are a lot fewer dishes to do. What we cannot see is all the ways that Owen may grow to help us, that we may all help each other.
There is something more, behind this week’s tears. There are always more layers. Someday there may be just two, Owen and me. This is surely the scariest thought of all, the root probably of my grief in this week of leave-taking. But if Time calls Edward to leave an old tired out body behind, I wouldn’t want to stop that flight of freedom either. You love people, and do not want to hold them too tightly. Actually, you do, but you don’t. And so when the moment comes, you will let them go, trusting that your paths will entwine again, later on.
For each goodbye, always there will be crying. And then — then there will be the light swirls, the bit of something to draw your eye and hold your attention, suspended. The gorgeous golden green alive in the tree tops, if I just tip back my head, and look up. Breathe. Smile. And hold Owen’s hand.