This phase of parenting is in the attic now.
The board games, the Lego Star Wars, the Connex with which we whiled away snowy January mornings. The stuffed animals are jammed into a net bag and the Japanese lantern from an eight-year-old birthday party is packed away. A lone football cleat lies on its side near some Christmas decorations.
The attic is dry and hot and airless—unlike the twenty years of messy rainy days, Harry Potter books on summer afternoons, endless pots of pasta, cold Friday night football and muddy rugby matches, driving lessons and drinking incidents. All now somehow folded up neatly and packed away in plastic storage boxes.
The Snapper is leaving to join his brother at college this week and suddenly this phase of parenting is over.
This phase. Rationally I know that parenting continues—Wally is a junior and though completely self-sufficient, I am still called in, like the army reserves. But when the Snapper goes out the door this week, so will the twenty-four-seven parenting that I have done for twenty years.
I became a single parent when they were both in diapers. My choice. As hard as it was, I consider myself luckier than most. I had a career that let me work out of the house and business trips where they sometimes joined me, traveling by ourselves through Europe and up and down the East Coast. We were our own unit.
We have grown up together, my boys and I. I was thirty-two when Wally was born and thirty-three when the Snapper arrived. I am older, wiser, and tougher now—but I still wept in the kitchen the other night. Not because I won’t be fine on the other side of this—I will. And not because this is the end of parenting, because it isn’t. No, I cried for the same reason I cried fifteen years ago, reading The House at Pooh Corner to Wally on the porch while the Snapper napped. Christopher Robin is going away to school (at the age of six) and he comes to the Hundred-Acre Wood to say good-bye to Pooh and the others. I read it and then put the book down and sobbed because I understood that, in the end if you have done your job right, your children leave the Woods and head out on their own—equipped to do so. At the time I was able to wipe away my tears because I rationally knew I had a fair amount of time left before my Christopher Robins made the same journey.
But now Wally is already a rising junior and the Snapper is the one packing up the books and toys and high school mementos, adding to the storage boxes in the attic.
The time has finally come for all of us to leave the Woods—because I am being pushed out at the same time they are. And as much as my heart hurts and my throat is tight with tears, I am reminded of a line from Thoreau, who knew a thing or too about magical woods. At the end of his stay he wrote, “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed I had more lives to live and could spare no more time for that one.” So we too are moving on to our next lives. I already admire and really like the men my sons have become, so I know the next phase will be as enjoyable, just in a different way. What’s more, I think we’re all ready for it.
But in the back of my mind, as in the 100-Acre Wood, I know that “Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”