Editor’s Note: This story previously published on azcentral.com.
The day had come to drop my son back at his dorm after winter break, the longest stretch of time he’d spent at home since he started college in August.
We loaded the car with Sawyer’s backpack, clean clothes, bed sheets and towels folded neatly in his laundry bag, and a plastic tote box stuffed with toilet paper, a case of water and enough snacks to open his own convenience store.I told him to do a last sweep of his room and man cave to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. And then I double-checked to make sure.
We ran into Sawyer’s friend Ethan at the elevators. He offered to help, taking a bag. Ethan said his mom had let him out at the curb.
I smiled sweetly.
The only reason I had come in was to save Sawyer from making three or four trips back and forth to the car — and to speed this move along.
Sawyer was excited to get back. To be honest, I was excited for him to go.
That realization caught me off guard. Wait, I think, I was what? Am I a horrid mother?
My Facebook feed was filled with pictures of loaded cars, airport drop-offs and sad faces, from heartbroken parents sending their kids back for the second semester.
How could I be excited for my son to be gone?
And does it take me out of the running for Mother of the Year?
Already the room’s a mess
Sawyer had come home in December the day after his last final.
I picked him up outside his dorm, where he stood scruffy and exhausted after a grueling first semester studying electrical engineering. He tossed a backpack and a laundry bag that looked like it might burst at the seams into the back seat.
He spent his first two days home in his pajamas.
In no time, clothes and damp towels were scattered across his bedroom floor. He left his bed unmade since he was in it so often. His shoes, abandoned by the front door, acted like an air freshener in reverse.
It was just like old times.
Except I hadn’t missed those old times.
I had expected to. I got teary just thinking about it. How would I cope when Sawyer left?
I mean, he’s my only child. I love him beyond measure. For 18 years, most of my time and attention have been directed at keeping him healthy, safe and reasonably happy.
But the day Sawyer moved into his dorm proved nothing near maudlin.
His dad, older half-sister and I helped him move in. We put together his portable whiteboard and Ikea chair. Sawyer hung up his shower curtain and a picture of Albert Einstein and then unceremoniously showed us the door.
We went for burgers without him.
I didn’t feel sad — I was excited for Sawyer.
He had worked hard to get there, saving and earning enough in scholarships to live on campus, something I never got the chance to do.
He could roll out of bed 10 minutes before class. He met with his study group in the lounge. He got a job doing research with his favorite professor.
I missed Sawyer of course, though apparently not with the same angst of some other parents.
It is easier for me because Sawyer is here in Arizona — and actually close enough to walk home. It would be harder if he was across the country or in another country altogether.
But there are things I don’t miss. I made a list:
13 things I don’t miss (and a bonus)
1. I don’t miss the eye rolls, mood swings or calls of “Mom, I need your credit card!”
2. I don’t miss toothpaste in the sink, empty shampoo bottles in the shower and the printer running out of ink. Oh, and paper.
3. I don’t miss questions that need answers right this minute as soon as I go into the bathroom and close the door.
4. I don’t miss not being able to find a fork.
5. I like being a mom — teaching, advising, comforting — but I don’t miss the other roles I had to play, like interrogating, policing, jailing.
6. I don’t miss the forgotten science projects and remembering at 11 p.m. that he needs to take chips and salsa to Spanish class tomorrow.
7. I don’t miss parent-teacher conferences and school fundraisers.
8. I don’t miss math homework. Well, any kind of homework.
9. I don’t miss nagging.
10. I don’t miss knocks on the front door after 10 p.m. and, “Sorry, Mom, I forgot to tell you so-and-so was coming over.”
11. I don’t miss always hearing, “Where are my shoes?” (Seriously, follow the scent) and “What’s for dinner?”
12. I don’t miss trying to fit so much in.
13. I don’t miss having to make it all happen, ironing out the details and picking up the pieces.
And bonus: I don’t miss the responsibility.
This is my life now
I admit the house did feel strangely empty with Sawyer gone, for a bit. I eventually shook the feeling that there was something — a Target run for forgotten school supplies, a load of dark laundry before tomorrow’s choir concert — I needed to do.
And then I realized, after all these years of setting a good example, of being on my best behavior, there was no one watching.
I felt like a kid whose parents were out of town.
I drank straight out of the two-liter bottle of Fresca and ate soup out of the pan.
I used a paper towel as a plate for avocado toast.
I had friends over on school nights.
Over the first weeks that Sawyer was gone, there was a change in the pace of life, set by me, not the morning carpool or a school calendar.
There were other changes.
- I cleaned the kitchen — and it stayed clean.
- I bought a third of what I used to at the grocery store. (I may actually be saving money with the dorm meal plan.)
- I ate less — and healthier. (I don’t blame Sawyer for my food choices; it’s just hard to resist a Little Debbie Nutty Bar when I peer into the refrigerator at 11 p.m.)
- My utility bills have dropped. I hardly ever run the dishwasher. There’s a lot less laundry and a lot more leftovers.
- I leave the house in the mornings with hardly a hitch. I tap dance more often.
- And I sleep, not as well as pre-motherhood sleep but closer to it than anything since. Not wondering if he finished his homework. No glow of the iPad coming from under his bedroom door. No waiting up to curfew.
The reality is, the less I know, the less I have to worry about. I’m guessing he’s brushing his teeth and showering. I assume he’s going to class. I don’t know if he’s studying, though I can tell from our shared Netflix account that he’s three episodes of “Peaky Blinders” ahead of me.
It’s all a part of the big plan, right?
Still, I was happy to have Sawyer home over winter break. We saw the new Star Wars movie and ate popcorn with jalapeños. He talked happily about his classes, professors and friends, the details he’d been stingy with all semester pouring out.
He’s taken up skateboarding. He registered for spring classes. Could we shop for his textbooks?
I loved spending that time with him.
I gave Sawyer the first few days of winter break to catch up on his sleep. And then I left him a list every day of things I needed him to do. Wash the car. Wrap presents. Pick up the dog’s poo.
(I suspect these lists may have added to his eagerness to return to campus when it was time.)
Because when he’s here, the pace picks back up.
There’s more to do. More grocery shopping, more laundry, more clutter and more cleaning.
The dishwasher runs every day.
“Where are all the forks?” I yell from the kitchen. They magically reappear from chair crevices in the man cave and the nightstand next to his bed.
We take the dog to the park and go on runs for ice cream. We hang out with family.
We stay up later, just talking or watching funny videos and “Peaky Blinders.”
It’s wonderful and exhausting, particularly when it is coupled with the holidays.
I think about why I’m happy for my son to go back to college after a month at home, why I’m taking this inventory of the things I don’t miss when he’s gone. I notice that it’s a pretty long list (Bye, bye, Mother of the Year award).
Maybe I’m trying to find those things that I don’t miss on purpose.
Because there is more of this to come, this missing him. This is just the beginning, freshman year of college. Soon it will be graduation, and his first real job, maybe in a city far from here — and me — and then a family of his own.
He’s excited about all that. To be honest, I am too.
So I left Sawyer at the dorm with a hug, and hugged Ethan, too. They already have plans to go out.
I put the empty tote back in the car and headed home, where it was quiet, and there was a chilled bottle of Chardonnay in the refrigerator and an episode of “Peaky Blinder” in the Netflix queue.
I’ve got until spring break in March.
Reach Karina Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8614.