My 19-year-old son moved out this weekend. Goodbye full fridge and cable TV, hello Ramen and rabbit ears.
I knew it was coming (I first wrote about his plans here), but I could not have adequately prepared myself to walk across the hall from my bedroom and survey the barren space he vacated for the first time. (Said sentimental surveying took place after I dusted and vacuumed, of course.) I won’t lie, I was more than a bit verklempt.
I’m grateful the move was Ethan’s decision and not a result of an ultimatum by a fed-up mother. A year ago, it nearly came to that, when I grew frustrated with his lack of direction (and lack of employment). No, we parted on the very best of terms, and I was glad to help make his transition as comfortable as possible.
After several months of looking, he decided to share a house with two roommates downtown near the University of Louisville. It ain’t the Highlands, but it’ll do for a bachelor pad. The crib, as his generation calls it, is populated with torn couches, mismatched dishes and the former tenants’ residual dirt. The few window coverings throughout the house are sheets, and neither bathroom has a shower curtain yet.
Ethan is so happy he can’t stand it.
I am really proud of him for taking the leap into self-sufficiency. The only way to gain real-life skills is to venture out on your own. It’s going to be challenging, and it will probably take a few months for him to get acclimated — i.e., not run out of money before his next payday — but I am fully confident that he is capable of taking care of himself. When you don’t have a choice, you make it work. True story.
This did not stop me from committing a few final acts of mothering, however. I have never been a “smother mother,” but I am, at heart, a caretaker. As with most moms, my motivation is not altogether altruistic. I take care of my kid not only for his benefit, but also for my own peace of mind. I have an innate need to make sure Ethan is OK so I can sleep at night.
So … I bought him cleaning supplies. I did all of his laundry, including bedding. I made lists of what I thought he should take, and of things I knew he wouldn’t want to forget. I put out a call to friends for donations of household items he lacked. I took him to the grocery to stock his pantry for the first couple of weeks. I lovingly packed his toothbrush.
And, to stall a certain life lesson I mentioned in my earlier post, I even bought the boy an industrial-sized package of toilet paper at Sam’s Club.
Ethan thanked me for my OCD organizational skills, and was very appreciative for all I did to assist in his move. As we hugged goodbye, he said, “I couldn’t have done all this without you.”
When I arrived at his house last night, my car loaded down with the last of his belongings, I was stunned to find him meticulously organizing his bedroom. Keep in mind, this is a kid who lived out of a laundry basket at my house. His dresser drawers had been empty for years.
And yet, there he was, folding and putting away every stitch of clothing he owned. This mama’s heart swelled.
And it swelled some more when he let me make his bed in his new home. He didn’t know it, but that simple act allowed me to tuck him in for what I can only assume is the last time. And, then, I made sure he had a fresh box of Kleenex on his bedside table.
Some people move out of their parents’ house and never look back. I was not one of those people, but I'm told it happens. Ethan’s move could be final, and I have to make peace with that possibility. I will not assume he’ll fail, despite his less-than-ideal circumstances.
See, he’s not in school right now, he’s earning only slightly above minimum wage, and he doesn’t have a car. Living on his own may be tougher for Ethan than for others with, er, richer resources. But it can be done.
Because of his particularly challenging situation, we did discuss the ground rules if he needs to move back home in the future. If he can’t maintain independence using his current assets, he’ll have to enroll in school. I don’t care what kind of school he chooses, he just needs to develop additional, marketable skills that will propel him to a better job and a better chance of success on his own. There will be no coming home to sit on his ass and play video games. Just sayin’.
Again, I choose to have faith that Ethan will succeed. Who knows, maybe he’ll get a promotion at work. Maybe he’ll decide to go to school and apply for some grants to supplement his income. Maybe he’ll save enough on his own to buy a car.
Maybe … he won’t need me anymore.
That would be a sobering thought if I weren't already sober. Sheesh.
The goal as I was raising Ethan was always to get him to a point where he doesn’t need me. THAT IS PARENTING 101. I don’t want to support him forever; I would be doing him a huge disservice if I did.
But as I got up this morning and peered across the hall, I couldn't help but feel nearly as empty as his old room. SNIFFLE (again).
I know Ethan will be back to do laundry, eat my legendary cooking and play with the dogs. He might even go to the movies with me from time to time. (He is still the very best movie date I’ve ever had.) We have a close relationship, and it’s not like he moved to Antarctica.
Yeah, it turns out Ethan isn’t the only one who needs some time to adjust to our new living arrangements. The house was awfully quiet this morning, which was disconcerting. I was pleased to find the kitchen in the exact same condition as I left it when I went to bed, though. One thing I won’t miss is the mess left behind by a hungry teenager who does his most elaborate cooking at 3 a.m.
But I digress.
This is a new chapter for both me and my son. I’m more excited than apprehensive. Change is good. Progress is good. Everything is as it should be, and we will be fine. (If I keep saying it, I’ll eventually believe it.)
All emotional upheaval aside, here’s the deal: I hereby vow not to rescue Ethan financially, but I will support him emotionally. I will respect his choices and give him space. I won’t get in the way of his natural consequences. I will cheer him on, and I will never, ever make him feel guilty for leaving.
Love you, sweet boy. You know where to find me. And the fridge is always full.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.