Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. I didn’t write that. It was actually Billy Joel in “Say goodbye to Hollywood” from the Turnstiles album. Love that album, which I’ve always thought was very underrated.
The point is he’s right, and there is, perhaps, no more bittersweet, triumphantly-excruciating, joyfully heartbreaking goodbye than the one we say to our children. I’m reminded of this now because it’s graduation season, and our kids are heading out, on their own, for the first time. Whether the independence is actual or perceived, the result is the same.
It is interesting that young people, especially those heading to college, though not yet involved in coursework, believe they’ve suddenly become smarter, for no reason other than the rising of the sun. A teenager who couldn’t microwave a burrito a month ago is now an expert on a wide range of topics, from international affairs to home renovation.
Moreover we, as parents, become stupider, for no reason other than the rising of the sun. This is a byproduct of what behaviorists, and me, call the “Good riddance affect.” This phenomenon is part of the natural order of things, provided by God as a gift to parents so we don’t miss our little know-it-alls quite so much. There have been rare cases in which parents have called university admissions offices to see if they might consider taking their sweet treasure a few weeks early.
“But the dorms won’t be open.”
“Can’t he just hang out on campus?”
Not that I’ve ever made such a call or imagined how the conversation might go if I phoned, anonymously, and disguised my voice just to test the waters to see, you know, if there was any precedent for such thing.
No, no. We’ll miss our children terribly. But life does go on, after all. Can’t sit around moping all day long. What am I going to do, for example, with two fewer cars in the driveway? I can either look, mournfully, out the window, at the empty spaces or I can do something productive, such as, I don’t know, buy a Corvette. I spotted a bright yellow one online.
“It’s very bold,” I told my wife. “It makes a statement.”
“What’s the statement?” she asked. “I’m yellow?”
She had a point. How about a Miata? “It’s so small,” she said. “It looks like someone trying to have a midlife crisis but can’t afford it.” Touché.
I found another place online that sells cars no one really needs. “Supercars.” Not the real name but it might as well be. It boasts a healthy inventory of jacked up cars under the tagline, “We specialize in impractical vehicles for middle-aged men.” Sign me up. But even Supercars didn’t have a car dumb enough for me. So, I dream.
The kids meanwhile, unaware of my plans for their parking spaces, or their rooms, continue to plan their exits. That’s when they’re actually here. When children are getting ready to leave the nest, home turns into a kind of bed and breakfast. For them, not for us. They have business to conduct — parties, photos, dinner engagements with associates. Every once in a while, we’ll catch a glimpse of someone purported to live here but that might just be the dog.
And yet, we anticipate the moment when we say, “Goodbye.” For real. We give them our best, last-minute advice, we hug them and drive away. And in that moment, as we peak in the rearview mirror, all of the “firsts” and “lasts” rush passed us – the first day of kindergarten, middle school, braces, birthday parties, high school, sports, band concerts, driving, dating. We hope we’ve done it right. How will we know? How can we?
The house will be quiet; quieter than we’re used to. The cars will be gone, the rooms empty, save for the reminders; stuffed animals, books, blankets, shoes. They’ll be back. But it won’t be the same. It can’t be. They know it, and we know it. Yes, they’ll come back, but they’ll leave again. They’ll always leave. I didn’t understand this when I left home. I do now. Billy Joel did: “Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.