My oldest son is moving out today.
Here’s the thing. Ours has been a very full house for a few years, and I think we are all ready for this change. I love Jaeger dearly, and I’ll miss seeing him on a nearly daily basis. I’ll miss his presence at the dinner table, and the way he helps cook and clean up afterwards. I’ll miss watching This is Us with him every Tuesday, and the laughter that always seems to accompany our time together. But it’s time.
You see, he’s been out on his own before, and this was his return trip to the nest. I know I’ve said this a hundred times before in my years of writing, but I wasn’t ready the first time my kids left home. I got married at twenty-one, and had Jaeger at twenty-two. Ryker and Chesney came along two and four years later, respectively.
I used to say, “Jack and I will still be young when they graduate. We’ll have time to travel. We’ll be young grandparents when our kids have kids.” Except as it turns out, Jack and I are not big travelers. And there aren’t any grandbabies yet, though I don’t doubt they’ll come along eventually. Most importantly, I’ve realized, as my parents and their parents before me must have realized, the world doesn’t necessarily cooperate with the plans you make when you’re young.
When Jaeger began nearing high-school graduation in 2007, it hit me like a ton of bricks that the time had passed in the blink of an eye. I thought about all of the time I’d spent wishing my kids out of diapers, for them to sleep through the night, feed themselves, and start walking. I remembered how I couldn’t wait for the day when the house was no longer cluttered with toys, for them to help with chores, start driving, get jobs. I’d wished away my babies’ childhood, and when it was over, I missed it incredibly.
Jaeger went off to college in a neighboring state in the fall of 2007. For the first two years, he came home to visit a few times during the school years, and moved back home over the summers so he could earn money. I cried every time he left home to go back to school. By his third year, I’d stopped crying so much and Jaeger got a job in Fargo, living on his own for the duration of his college years. He secured a full-time job there after graduation and got engaged to a great girl. They had a dog by then, and she was the four-legged baby in their little family. By all accounts, my oldest son was about to embark on the rest of his life. Until the girl left him.
In the long run, we’ve realized it was probably the best thing that their life together was over before it really began, but it was hell at the time for my boy, and my own heart broke plenty too. I wished he was closer so I could keep an eye on him and make sure he was okay.
He continued on his own for a couple of years after the girl left, thankfully with his loyal dog by his side. He fought for “custody” of her, and I’m not sure he would have survived without his fur-baby. His heart began to heal, and my mind eased a bit. And when Jaeger lost two grandfathers in two years, he decided it was time to come back home, closer to family. Last year he packed up his stuff and came back. His plan was to stay with us just for the summer while he got acclimated in a new job, and then find a place of his own. That was a year and a half ago.
I’ve loved almost every minute of it, but it’s time. Especially because our twenty-seven and twenty-five year old kids are either still – or back at home too. Stories for another time, but really, I’ve realized that our stories aren’t all that uncommon these days.
It seems now that life just isn’t as black and white as I’d thought it would be when I was envisioning it at twenty-two years old with a new baby in my arms. In spite of my best intentions, I couldn’t ensure that my children had perfect and easy lives, where they easily merged into a secure life after checking off all of the expected boxes.
Luckily, the older version of me now realizes that even if I could have protected my kids from every fall and every disappointment … they never would have become strong enough to carry on day-to-day in this world. And in spite of the fact that I sometimes wonder what people think when they learn that all three of my adult children are living at home, two of them with college degrees, I don’t really care. I love that they know they are welcome here, and that we are happy to help them until they get solidly on their feet. I love that they seem to enjoy hanging out with me. They’ve all made it abundantly clear that they have no intentions of staying forever. But I’d let any of them stay forever if it came to that. I would. But I truly want their lives to be strong and healthy enough for them to soar on their own. And I know they’ll all get there in time.
The beautiful thing is, when we realized our kids who had once left home were coming back, I saw it as a second chance. I knew it wouldn’t always be easy, but I saw it as an opportunity to make up for all of those times I wished precious moments away. I could go on to explain why Jaeger’s three-month plan to temporarily live at home turned into eighteen months, but the details aren’t all that important. And I was never in a hurry for him to go again anyway.
During the time Jaeger’s been back, there have been five adults and two dogs under our roof. We’ve kept the situation pretty healthy. Everyone works full time, pays rent and everyone contributes to maintaining the household in some way.
We’ve had so much fun together … and we’ve been so annoyed with each other. The dinner table has been filled with contented conversation … and sometimes voices are raised in anger. The hardest part has been remembering how much more worried I can be when one them is out late at night and I’m waiting for the sound of them coming back through my door.
I’ve been given my second chance to be ready for this. This phase is incrementally coming to a close and at this point I’m more worried about the dogs’ ability to adjust to their pending separation than I am about Jaeger. But we’ll all be just fine. And I am ready this time.