Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stepping Away

Three graduation cards off in the mail. One to go. Children leaving the nest moving on to the next phase of their lives, a phase when parents and grandparents step back and watch the child step away.
Storage containers, suitcases, supplies that every college student needs filled our car. Stacey and I were driving James off to college. When I say ‘off’, I mean ‘off’. We live in Oregon. He was going to Northwestern University in Chicago. We decided to drive so we could have that one last time as a family before it changed once more. Stacey, James and I knew that only two of us would be returning to the west coast. A fact we chose to ignore on the trip east.
Excitement was everywhere. Students meeting new roommates. Rooms becoming homes for those moving away for the first time. Parents and children focused on the immediate and not the ‘good-byes’ that would come later.
Evening came. It was a warm Evanston night. We hugged. We crawled back into the car. His face was covered with tears. I know because I could see them through my veil of tears. My heart was breaking. We drove away. At the next stop light it dawned on me. James, our navigator, was standing back on the curb and not in the car.
“Stacey, I don’t know how to get out of here,” I said.  We couldn’t go back. I couldn’t say good-bye again. So we turned left away from the lake and toward the Pacific. It was at least the right direction. I cried for two states before my daughter told me it was time to stop and get over it. And so I did. I came home to his empty room with a refreshed stab of pain but I did survive walking into the empty nest.
Phone calls flew across the US whenever there was success or disaster. Trips were rare but treasured when they happened. 
I sat in on his private voice lesson. His teacher was William Warfield, a man I had adored the first time I heard him sing “Old Man River” in the movie Showboat. Mr. Warfield sat and talked to me about my son and his music. I sat in the middle of the room proud that the nest had been emptied and dreams pursued. They sang. A master and his student. A boy becoming the man he would be in the future. A singer becoming a professional.
The steps away begin when the child leaves the womb. Learning to find their own hand, eat with a spoon, step onto a school bus, walk across a stage to receive a diploma. All steps away. Their steps away were steps of learning for me. I learned that I could let go and still live to tell about it. I found that I could once again find out who I was after eighteen years with a child at home. His step away were literally my first step in finding my own way back to Oregon……a step forward in finding the new me.

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