Just another round of errands driving around town.
Another check yet again.
Yes, it is still true. The back seat of my car is empty and we are heading home alone.
This time, however, confirms the permanence of the clear view behind us.
For over two decades, my rear view mirror was filled with the cultural detritus of everyday life.
It started with mobiles and dangling squeaking things designed to amuse, stimulate and developmentally enhance my babies’ road trip experience. This morphed into the proper classical music to raise their nubile intelligence quotients and prevent them from trying to steal the car keys for a spontaneous roadie.
The roadies would remain confined to hitching our sainted giant dog to the front of the Red Ryder© wagon for a ride up the driveway. This changed into the scenario of two little boys starting at the top of the gently sloped drive to gain Sir Isaac’s gravitational acceleration and cut cookies on the Big Wheels© with their older sister yelling “faster!” throughout…
The car seats and booster seats replaced the infant seat with alarming alacrity. The new models lifted everyone to their properly mandated federal safety standards and gave my husband and I the appropriate glimpse of what they were up to at any given moment. All the while, the dogs were busy licking faces clean of whatever fast food joy box food product that was serving to fill tummies and keep us all on schedule.
And there was the trip to the family fake reunion moment with two eighteen month olds who had had QUITE enough of the six hours in confinement, federally mandated or not. Their five-year-older sister could no longer cajole them through another round of “Ten Apples Up On Top”. We ended up sending back the Wall Street Journal for them to shred just to make that home stretch. By the time we arrived at my in-laws, the back of my SUV looked like a giant hamster ball.
The dogs eventually would never touch another French fry or cereal snack. Aversion therapy does work given enough time and effort…
And now, here we are, my husband and I. We are alone in the car having crossed five states and three time zones. I dubbed this “The Brady Bunch Tour”. We would pretend to be Mike and Carol while we all happily sang camp songs ALL the way to our destination.
When my husband suggested this venture, (as opposed to shipping and flying and renting and stressing), I accused him of being nuts
But then I thought, “Maybe it’s the perfect way to transition through this change”.
There are no car seats anymore.
For the past five years, along with bouts of seriously malodorous sports gear, my rear view mirror has been gradually filled with boys morphing into men. It became a tool to view their increasingly fuzzy faces. Then nicked faces reeking of aftershave. Finally heads of men who could gaze back in that mirror at eye level.
What went unnoticed by me as the days of high school flew by, were the increasing number of times the back seat was empty. Rather than be seen in my rear view mirror, they would get to their practices, games, and gatherings by themselves.
But they would check to see that we were in the bleachers. They kept that smile to themselves. And, that was okay.
My sons have an amazing cadre of friends. Five had become eagle scouts together never letting anyone give up on this rigorous goal. All were good guys and honor roll members. College selections began to loom large on the horizon that had always been just around the next bend.
BAM! Senior year. Awards banquets, final track meet, final basketball game, senior night. Senior sports banquet. snowball dance, prom. These great guys were so very aware that the sands of time were running out on this phase of their lives.
I, on the other hand wasn’t aware at all. I was too busy, as usual, to hear the clock ticking. Too busy in the days of life; planning graduation open house, receptions, reminding them to send in their acceptance letters and trigger their scholarship awards?
“We’ve got it, Mom.” And so they did.
Each time one of the guys turned eighteen; they were automatically indoctrinated into the “Society of Refined Gentlemen” of which they were all founding members. There would be a mass road trip to the local cigar store in our 1880s town.
“Got ID, son?”
The “SRG” would then convene on our deck where Dad would grill burgers whilst classical music pervaded the forest behind them. Though I objected to the cigars, they were eighteen. They were men.
I’ll get the mustard….
When asked if I would miss them, my response was always the same: “This has been my job for the past two decades. Would I have them living in my basement at thirty? No! I have done my job”.
No one warned me a job could be too well done.
There was the last Ultimate Frisbee Tournament. The last pig roast. It’s time to pack, guys.
“One last barbecue at our house mom?”
“Yes.” But ever the administrator with her eye on the agenda and a bribe and a threat for every occasion, “But you have to be packed and the car loaded for that to happen. We need to get going in the morning.”
That morning we were leaving for our trek, there were still two extra guys crashed on our couches. That meant one more round of pancakes and bacon.
It’s time guys.
But mom had to take one last round of pictures. Of course. That’s what moms do — they document the moments that are so precious, so fleeting – even though there are probably some of those fast food fries still stuck in the back of the car for archaeological purposes.
The trip was fun. We had comedy CDs, visited friends from our hometown, laughter, wise cracks, and eagerness to get on with it. The last was from my twins. I was increasingly reluctant, though I did my best to hide it.
Somewhere in there, I, too, began to hear the drip of each grain of sand draining into the bottom of that hourglass.
And I realized I couldn’t stop it.
I had been commanded that I wouldn’t be “one of those moms” who would be clinging to her baby as she sobbed out her goodbyes.
“Not me. I promise.”
And I kept that promise. But randomly I look back in that empty rear view mirror. When no one is looking, I wipe away the tears.
Come home when you can. I love you more.
Me? I’ll keep my eyes on the road ahead.