Wednesday, August 1, 2012

As July slips into August, change is in the air.

From the fields of The Palouse to talk of back-to-school, summer is waning.

At the market, we begin to notice this year's graduates saying their good-byes as they head to college.

I feel for the parents as I watch their excitement and pride, but also the bittersweet realization that things will never quite be the same again. Life is changing and it takes us with it.

I remember being afraid of all kinds of things when our own kids left home...but mostly I was just afraid of losing the closeness that we shared as a family when they were growing up. We were tight the four of us, and I feared that would be lost forever.

When I think of that time of life and all of my mixed emotions it always makes me think of the movie Toy Story 3.

That's the one where Andy is all grown up and heading off to college and it's time to let go of his childhood toys. With flashbacks via home movie clips, we see Andy and his baby sister, Molly, and even Buster the dog growing up as the moments slip away one into the next, as quickly and imperceptibly as they do in our own lives.

With little time before the big move, the movie begins with Andy's mom begging him to go through his room and pack things up: things to go to college, things to go to storage, things to give away.

As the movie plays on, Andy drags his feet, a typical 17-almost-18-year-old. But as the Toys' main story plays out and we flash back to the house, we hear Andy's mom asking if he's told Molly good-bye as they step into his room for a final walk-through.

She stops in her tracks and lets out an audible gasp, looking around at the bare walls and floor and the empty bulletin board, tears welling up in her eyes.

Right there, sitting in an animated movie in a theater full of kids, I simply could not hold back my tears, either. I don't think I've ever cried like that at a movie before or since.

By the time Toy Story 3 came out, it had been six years since our oldest had graduated high school and was heading to college, but I had lived almost that exact animated scene.

I'll never forget walking into our son's room and seeing the bare walls and empty bulletin board and reacting exactly like Andy's mom - it flat-out took my breath away.

“Mom, it's ok,” Andy tells her.

“I know,” she replies. “It's just...I wish I could always be with you.”

And, that was IT exactly.

Andy's cartoon mom perfectly articulated what had gone through my own mind six years earlier.

I knew it was time for our son to go out and make his way in life. I knew that it was right and natural and good. But the mom in me, the part of me that had spent 18 years loving and protecting and raising this beautiful young man (with the Grocer's help, of course;), couldn't imagine life without him.

It was the same two years later when our daughter packed her bags to move far from home. This child—who came into the world seemingly able to take of herself—had been born ready for the moment to spread her wings. 

When she left, the house truly felt silent. I struggled to get my groove back and figure out what to do with all of the new-found time I had when suddenly no one needed to be dropped off, or picked up, or taken...well...anywhere.

But you know what?

Here it is years later. Both our kids are married. And life—though not the same as it was when we were our tight little foursome—is even better than I could have ever envisioned. Our family has grown to include an incredible son-in-law, a wonderful daughter-in-law, a brand new grandchild, and another on the way.

What felt like an ending that day so many years ago when I walked in our son's room was really just the beginning.

“I wish I could always be with you,” said Andy's mom, wistfully.

“You will be, Mom,” he promised.

And for those of you with kids heading off to college soon, rest assured, you will always be with them, too.

Life won't be the same...but in time, like me, you might just find that it's even better.  

-The Grocer's Wife