I expected my oldest son to move out of the house after he turned 18. But I expected him to go to college — not to Moldova.
I expected him to be a car, a train, or a short airplane ride away, coming home for major holidays, and maybe even some weekends (that laundry isn’t going to do itself!). I did not expect him to go for a 10-month immersive Russian-language program. No holidays, and definitely no weekends.
His decision changed everything. Knowing that I wouldn’t see him from early September until late May really drove home for me just how quickly his childhood flew by. Our house is full of photos of him as a baby in the bathtub and as a toddler erecting a precarious block tower. There are photos of him on his first day of kindergarten, a succession of Halloween and Purim costumes, his graduation from middle school, and finally, high school.
But now he’s in Moldova.
His very tangible absence has prompted me to look at my two younger children in a completely different way. I have a 14-year-old applying to high school (yes, in NYC, you need to apply to high schools, even public ones). He’s planning to get as far away from me as possible as soon as possible, and my 11-year-old daughter can’t wait to be a teenager.
“I’ve figured out your superpower,” my middle son told me the other day. “You can miss people while they’re still there.”
He’s right — that’s exactly how I feel. I look at my two younger children, and I not only miss the moments that have already passed, I miss the moments that are currently happening, because I know that they, too, will soon pass.
I am already anticipating a future when these daily interactions between us — talking about what happened in school that day, making plans for the weekend, offering opinions on something we heard or read — will no longer be on their agenda.
The Japanese have a word for this emotion; they call it mono no aware. It means a sensitivity to ephemera, the transience of life, and the bittersweetness inherent in fleeting beauty.
That pretty much sums it up.
In an effort to stave off these feelings, I tried to learn from my experience. Knowing that my daughter would be my last baby — and also realizing how much I forgot about my sons’ early years — I tried to be more conscious about living in the moment with her. I doggedly tried to commit those first few months to memory.
I tried, and I failed. Her early childhood is as much as a blur as that of her brothers.
And now, I suspect my current attempts to retain these last few years at home with my younger children will prove equally as gone with the wind. Sure, I can write down the clever and/or funny things they say:
When I asked my son why the light was on his room while he was in the living room, he looked up from reading The Communist Manifesto to pronounce, “If one room has light, all rooms should have lights.”
When I told my daughter that I’d put bread in the toaster for her, but she’d have to do the rest when it came to making breakfast, she asked, “You mean eat it?”
I try to take more pictures. And I do — though uploading them from the camera is another story.
Ultimately, I know my attempts are futile. Like their older brother, my younger kids will grow up, and they will move out of the house, and they will set off on their own adventures. That’s a good thing. That’s what I want for them. I want them to lead full, interesting, exciting lives.
I left my parents in California to move to New York. My parents left their parents in the USSR to move to America. Is it any surprise that my oldest would give living abroad a whirl? Or that his siblings might want to follow suit?
I am extremely proud of my oldest son for sticking it out in a complicated and confusing foreign country. I expect to be equally proud of his brother and sister someday. But I also already miss them. Today. Even while they’re standing here, right in front of me.