June 19, 2011
We have one child, and he is now legally an adult. He lives in a large city on the East Coast., takes the subway from near his apartment to his internship, and enjoys all the cultural and social life of a twenty-something.
Sure beats making sandwiches on the graveyard shift in your hometown Subway.
His father and I are very happy for him that this summer is far superior to last summer and rich with opportunity.
But, damn, we miss him. This is the first summer he hasn’t come home since he left for college three years ago.
When he was about eight years old, the house next to ours was for sale. He told me one day as we passed the for sale sign, “Mommy, when I grow up I’m going to buy that house so I can live right next to you and Daddy.”
But that wasn’t going to happen. Of course, it still could. I don’t think it will. It’s a family tradition on both sides of the family to stake one’s own claim elsewhere.
My husband and I believe that our job as parents is to give our child wings and then help him to fly.
Before he was a year old, he spent several days with his maternal grandparents at their home 300 miles away from us. Did I say it was easy? No, it wasn’t. Did we believe it was the best thing for our child? Yes. Did my mother probably drag him into the local grocery store to show everyone her firstborn grandson? Yes.
That was only the beginning of shoving him out of the nest.
He went to church camp with a friend for a few days when he was eight. I was almost hyperventilating as we drove away, but I didn’t let him see that. And of course I knew that in case of an emergency, the camp office had a phone.
A week at primitive Boy Scout camp was next. It looked like the set for Deliverance and I begged the Scoutmaster to keep an eye on my son. And of course I knew the Scoutmaster had his cell phone in case of an emergency.
He did fine. Our son became an Eagle Scout, and in turn helped new campers. He survived an F-4 tornado in a concrete bathroom with 40 other Scouts years later on a similar jaunt, after sirens pulled them out of their utilitarian WWII-era tents.
Then he graduated to “High Adventure” – a two-week trek to Wyoming and camping in the Tetons. He was fourteen. They went mountain biking, horseback riding, and generally remained unkempt for nearly two weeks. The true desire of any 14-year-old boy and a herd of forty-year-old unshaven men.
The highlight was whitewater rafting on the Snake River – with Level 4 rapids. This time – there would be no cell contact – for two weeks.
One of the dads who accompanied the Scouts was a friend from church, and had known us since our son was a baby. On Herman’s birthday, this loving man drove our son twenty miles into range of a cell tower so Herman Jr. could call his Dad on his birthday. Now that is a friend!
There was one bigger test, before college. He went to Europe for two weeks on a school trip. Our only son got on an airplane in Louisville, Kentucky, and got off in Rome, Italy. I hear they don’t even speak English there (she said wryly.) We changed his cell phone plan and he called us three times. I remember one quite clearly because he said, “Guess where I am?” Of course we didn’t know and he excitedly told us he was near the site where Starry Night had been painted in Arles, France. Smart boy, on that day, he knew where his bread was buttered!
Then we moved him to a college, eleven hundred miles away, and a city that is a top terrorist target, I was not calm, cool, and collected when we left him at the stone gate with his university's name etched on it. I was not comforted by the Indiana limestone many of the buildings and gate were made from. I thought my heart would separate from my body.
I don’t know if I ever will get over it. I miss him every day, and yet I know how incredibly blessed we are and how blessed he is to have such great adventures. Herman misses him greatly, maybe even more than I do, especially on a day like today.
Then we stop and think. We close our eyes and reflect on this young man. And in our mind's eye we see him soar.