There’s a tall, well-dressed, handsome young man who keeps passing me in the passages of my home. Though I know it’s my son, my mind does a flip every time I see him. “Who is this person?” I wonder, in the flash of a second before recognition seeps in. “And what happened to that cute kid who loved nothing more than playing games with his friends on our neighbourhood streets?”
Send a kid off to college and you know, deep down, that he or she will never come back quite the same. That first move out of the family home marks a transition to adulthood from which there’s no going back. As a mother watching that transition closely, my pride at this amazing person who grew up under our roof is tinged with an acute ache, as I acknowledge his separation from the family unit.
The first-year university student who strode back into my house last month was stronger, deeply confident and more independent than ever. He needed no reminders to get up or go to sleep, waived my offers to make his lunch and – shock! – even made his bed in the morning. “No need to do my laundry anymore, mom,” he declared nonchalantly, as he buttoned his shirt, adjusted his tie and left for a day in the office at his summer internship.
My kid left home nine months ago, teetering on the cusp of adulthood. He’s come back a grownup, firmly inhabiting that category of life we tend to associate with maturity and wisdom. His mind is on the future as he wrestles with his career path. Which route will take him to success and happiness – and fast – he wonders frequently. I urge him to reflect on the definition of these elusive words at a time when materialism dominates our cultural experience. How do you know when you’ve achieved success? And what is happiness if not a perspective based on relativity? Material wealth, the yardstick our society uses most frequently to measure accomplishment, often fails to deliver, I remind him.
“Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life,” I advise, hoping that the path he chooses will be inspired by passion and a commitment to do good in the world, rather than by pure financial gain. But my son is stressed about his career choice and pressures himself to come up with answers. A true millennial, he wants to know now, not in five-to-10 years.
Knowing there are no instant solutions to this question, I caution patience, reminding him how much time he has to explore, to reach in different directions, to experiment and to figure out what inspires and motivates him. The world is at his fingertips. I see this so clearly. Nothing is out of reach to this charismatic, energetic, hard-working young man who constantly challenges himself to improve. All he needs is time, and he has so much of it ahead of him.
I’m overjoyed and grateful to have him back around the family Shabbat dinner table, to be blowing out birthday candles with him and wiling away lazy summer weekends at the lake. But I also know these days are numbered. His feet are itching to travel to exotic places, to find friendships in new communities and to move beyond the sphere of his familiar childhood. He’s already drawing figurative maps and planning moves into uncharted territory of his own. This is how it’s meant to be, of course. I just didn’t realize that, mingled with the pride, would produce this piercing ache.