Parenting

That Kid Who’s Been Pulling Away for His Whole Life

That one kid.

The one who’s been pulling away his entire life. The one who blended in with the rest of the family at first but then subtly, in small but unmistakable ways, began distancing himself until he was fully in his own orbit, still revolving around us but always looking outward toward more interesting stars, more exciting galaxies.

That one baby.

The one who saw an obstacle in front of him (a no-frills, first-generation Exersaucer) and unlike his siblings who carefully and wisely crawled around it, plowed unhesitatingly right through it, to get to the other side in the quickest way possible. The one who refused to be quietly cuddled and read to before bedtime, instead wanting to ride his push car around and around and around the open floor plan of our house, endlessly going and going … anywhere.

That one toddler.

The one in the picture above, who walked early, and right away I saw that this would be my view of him from now on: one hand out to steady himself, one hand holding a useful tool, and a determined stance that kept him moving inexorably away from me, on his own path. Who, at two and three and four, straddled the arm of the couch in full western gear, singing cowboy songs and announcing that he was moving to Texas to herd cattle, or maybe Montana.

That one kid.

The one who cheerfully homeschooled with his siblings until adolescence hit hard and then he wanted something quite different. Alone of all his siblings, he entered school in 8th grade and will be the only one to receive a public school diploma. Even when in school, he was bored and restless, wanting something else, something different, so he enrolled in tech school where he could learn practical, real-life skills.

That one teen.

The one who got a good-paying part-time job at a car repair shop and bought himself a 1985 Chevy truck, a money pit that challenged him and frustrated him and took his bank account down to zero over and over again. The truck he cut his teeth on, repairing and improving and modifying, until it ran reasonably well and looked pretty good. The one he got bored with in less than a year and sold at a loss – a loss of money, but not knowledge or experience.

That one young adult.

The one who gave the community college maybe one passing thought, checked out the tech schools in person, and recognized that more schooling right after high school was not the best plan for his life. The one who walked past the college reps and instead sought out the military recruiters in his high school commons during lunchtime. The one who decided that the army was a good fit and enlisted during his senior year.

That one son.

The one who has been pulling away from the time he could crawl. The one who has made me tear my hair out, worry endlessly, and second-guess myself more than any other kid. The one I think of every time I listen to “Polaroid” by Imagine Dragons: “I am the color of boom.” I don’t have to ask what that line means. My son who is the color of boom still lives here, but not for long. 

Because that one kid, the one who is immortalized in a random photograph I took the day after his first birthday at a pumpkin patch, has been pulling away for 18 years and that thin thread between us is about to snap. While it’s heartbreaking to me, it’s liberating to him. Of all my kids, I wonder how often I’ll see him after he’s gone. Will he come back for holidays? Will he ever call? Will I even know what’s going on in his life?

Some kids pull away harder and sooner than others, in a very intentional way. Their independent streak is shockingly strong. Sometimes a parent is honest with herself and realizes that that one kid, that kid who has to do things his own way, that kid who needs to be on his own … is a lot like she was. And that she was also the color of boom at that age. The details may be different, but the drive to independence was equally strong.

That one kid. The one who’s been pulling away his entire life.

I have four children—including another son who served in the military—but this kid … this kid is the one whose leaving will seem the most final. I’m still coming to terms with it, knowing that my immediate future contains a large empty space that started small 18 years ago, but has grown and grown until it echoes now in my heart and in my home. He’s been striving to exit that space for most of his life. I understand—I really do. What he may or may not know now is that when he takes flight and leaves this nest, that space may be empty in our house, but in the space in my heart, he will always have a home.

(This post originally appeared on Grown & Flown)

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