When a Child Leaves Home



 

This September, we hand-delivered our  eldest daughter, Gwen, to UC San Diego, home to surf classes, Nobel prize winners and the library named after the famous Dr. Seuss. It was a surreal scene as we rolled our van into the dorm parking lot, queued up behind a dozen or so other vehicles loaded with shaky parents, vibrant freshmen and a fraction of their life’s possessions in the trunk. A student wearing a neon traffic vest peered into our car and wielded his temporary  authority. “You can get out now,” he instructed Gwen, “and get your dorm room keys up there, and meet your parents back on the lawn after they park their car.” Wide-eyed Gwen obeyed with the deftness of a young doe and silently  flitted out. I glanced at my husband and he at me. We were both thinking: This isn’t  happening. All these 18 years have come to this moment. This is what it builds up to – releasing our daughter into the world. The nine-hour drive home to Sunnyvale was anti-climactic. Quiet in the car, I was typing on my laptop, working on a freelance story; Frank kept his eyes steady on the road. My younger son, Aaron, played a video game and did his homework in the back seat. The New Normal Back at home, Gwen’s departure has changed everything. Or should I say, it has changed how I see parenting, for today I have a fresh set of  lenses. Those school pickups and drives to  soccer practice that used to wear me out have a new definition as I take only one kid to school and to his sports events. With one less child to drive around, I actually have more energy and more time to reflect. And this time I want to do better as a parent. I want to listen without judgment. I want to make the time to do the pickups and to even go for Jamba Juice after school without worrying about rushing off to pursue my own agenda. It occurs to me that life happens in the car, so I’m learning to embrace the drive and look for meaning between the sighs and “uh huhs” from the passenger seat. I want to appreciate the time I have left with my  16-year-old son, to build a strong and healthy relationship so that when he thinks about me, he will not picture a nagging woman, but a mom who genuinely cares and accepts his thoughts and ideas even if they differ from my own. I hope he regards me as a person who didn’t just tolerate him while he lived at home, but reveled in his presence and missed him when he was at a sleepover. We haven’t always been close, but things are changing day by day. A Changing Relationship  Now that his big sister is gone, Aaron is emerging from her shadow. As a straight-A student and popular in school among peers and teachers, she was a hard act to follow. But he has found his identity in music. He is a thriving electric guitarist, a good friend to classmates and a strong student academically. He recently graduated from braces and doesn’t mind when I ask him to flash me that $6,000 smile. I’ve gotten more relaxed as the food police. Yes, I will allow fast food periodically just for fun between the both of us. I’m living in Boy World now. I’m learning a new dance as the three of us adjust to a new rhythm. Gwen’s constant  presence has left a hole in my heart, but my son is filling the gap with his increasing maturity and willingness to listen to my thoughts and the events of my day. I take joy in our rekindled relationship. When Gwen left for school, he seemed to take a step closer to me, and I to him. He doesn’t flinch now when I hug him. He WILL do his chores and has picked up his sister’s chores with less complaining. He  somehow seems to get it … whatever “it” is. I don’t know how long this honeymoon will last, but I will take what I can get. I hope it is a new normal. n Kathy Chin Leong writes frequently about travel for Bay Area Parent.

 

This September, we hand-delivered our eldest daughter, Gwen, to UC San Diego, home to surf classes, Nobel prize winners and the library named after the famous Dr. Seuss. It was a surreal scene as we rolled our van into the dorm parking lot, queued up behind a dozen or so other vehicles loaded with shaky parents, vibrant freshmen and a fraction of their life’s possessions in the trunk.

 

A student wearing a neon traffic vest peered into our car and wielded his temporary authority. “You can get out now,” he instructed Gwen, “and get your dorm room keys up there, and meet your parents back on the lawn after they park their car.” Wide-eyed Gwen obeyed with the deftness of a young doe and silently flitted out. I glanced at my husband and he at me. We were both thinking: This isn’t happening. All these 18 years have come to this moment. This is what it builds up to – releasing our daughter into the world.

 

The nine-hour drive home to Sunnyvale was anti-climactic. Quiet in the car, I was typing on my laptop, working on a freelance story; Frank kept his eyes steady on the road. My younger son, Aaron, played a video game and did his homework in the back seat.

 

 

The New Normal

Back at home, Gwen’s departure has changed everything. Or should I say, it has changed how I see parenting, for today I have a fresh set of lenses. Those school pickups and drives to soccer practice that used to wear me out have a new definition as I take only one kid to school and to his sports events. With one less child to drive around, I actually have more energy and more time to reflect.

 

And this time I want to do better as a parent. I want to listen without judgment. I want to make the time to do the pickups and to even go for Jamba Juice after school without worrying about rushing off to pursue my own agenda. It occurs to me that life happens in the car, so I’m learning to embrace the drive and look for meaning between the sighs and “uh huhs” from the passenger seat.

 

I want to appreciate the time I have left with my 16-year-old son, to build a strong and healthy relationship so that when he thinks about me, he will not picture a nagging woman, but a mom who genuinely cares and accepts his thoughts and ideas even if they differ from my own. I hope he regards me as a person who didn’t just tolerate him while he lived at home, but reveled in his presence and missed him when he was at a sleepover.

 

We haven’t always been close, but things are changing day by day.

 

 

A Changing Relationship 

Now that his big sister is gone, Aaron is emerging from her shadow. As a straight-A student and popular in school among peers and teachers, she was a hard act to follow. But he has found his identity in music. He is a thriving electric guitarist, a good friend to classmates and a strong student academically. He recently graduated from braces and doesn’t mind when I ask him to flash me that $6,000 smile.

 

I’ve gotten more relaxed as the food police. Yes, I will allow fast food periodically just for fun between the both of us.

 

I’m living in Boy World now. I’m learning a new dance as the three of us adjust to a new rhythm. Gwen’s constant presence has left a hole in my heart, but my son is filling the gap with his increasing maturity and willingness to listen to my thoughts and the events of my day. I take joy in our rekindled relationship. When Gwen left for school, he seemed to take a step closer to me, and I to him. He doesn’t flinch now when I hug him. He WILL do his chores and has picked up his sister’s chores with less complaining. He somehow seems to get it … whatever “it” is.

 

I don’t know how long this honeymoon will last, but I will take what I can get. I hope it is a new normal.

 

Kathy Chin Leong writes frequently about travel for Bay Area Parent.

 

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