Have you ever found nostalgic for a time that you’re still in?

Better question: Are you following your high school senior around the house, trying to hold on to the memory of them living with you as long as you can before they head off to college?

That’s where we are now, in this limbo between knowing what date my oldest is leaving and the day it’s actually going to happen, and I’m watching time fly by in a way I never have before.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember giving one iota of thought to how my mom felt about it when I moved out. I was a teenager too, and all I thought about was getting out on my own. I look at my son and he has no such luxury, because his mother and father are following him around the house with sad puppy dog eyes, wondering what our lives are going to be like when he’s not in them every day.

He’s not going far, which makes me feel a little stupid about the depth of my emotions. He’ll be close enough to come home when he likes, but he won’t be that stereotypical college kid with laundry. (You want to drag a laundry bag around multiple subways and a commuter train for two hours? Didn’t think so.) 

But I can’t help it. He was born in 2003, my daughter came along in 2007, and our family was formed. The four of us have been a unit, the “us” in our lives, for 13 years, and on my daughter’s 14th birthday, we’ll move him into his college dorm and go home without him. Our four will be three, and when he comes home for the weekend, IF he comes home for the weekend, he’ll be a visitor, albeit a very comfortable one.

“I assume you won’t be back THAT often,” I told him a few weeks ago. “But you know, you’ll still come back a lot.”

“What do you think is often?” he asked me.

“Um… I guess every couple of weeks?” I said hopefully.

“I was thinking MAYBE once a month—at most.”

I looked at him, forlorn. “Can I visit you?”

“No.”

He’s not ashamed of us; in fact, he loves us and freely admits it. This kid who’s been teaching us how to parent him since the day he was born seems pretty happy with the way things turned out, but he’s ready to be on his own and looks a little nervous every time my husband and I joke about how he’s going to find us randomly strolling around the area of his dorm every Saturday. (We don’t have laundry bags to carry, after all.)

I’ve been proud of his independent streak his whole life, relieved I never had to consider becoming a helicopter parent, astonished at the person he’s always been and the person he’s becoming.  But now I wish I could make myself invisible so I could follow him around when he gets to college to see how he operates in the world. Is that weird?

Yes. It’s weird. I know it is. But don’t all parents wish they could see what their kids’ lives are like when they’re not around?

“Do you think he’ll still want to go on vacation with us?” I asked my husband. He was about to say yes when he caught himself. “I don’t know,” he admitted. I don’t know what to say anymore. Our boy could meet a bunch of friends he wants to hang out with on school breaks, he could fall in love, he could get a job near the college and want to stay. He could go on vacation with—gasp—other people.

So I watch him as he walks around the house, haunted by what it will be like when he’s not here anymore. I don’t want to be that person who ruins the present for the sake of the future, but he’s not making it easy, what with his general good cheer, helpfulness around the house, and excitement about the future that awaits him. He catches me staring at him sometimes, looking wistful, thinking about the empty space that will be there after he leaves. He’s not even gone yet, and I already miss him.

About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

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