Posted in Columns

Clean room, parental gloom

I remember dreaming of the day that the floor in my son’s room would be visible, that I wouldn’t need a shovel to clear a path in order to set something on his desk.

A week or so ago, a miracle occurred and my dream came true. The stuff is gone. The only problem: the owner of the room is gone as well.

And I find myself missing the mess every time I walk past his room.

I was almost smug, thinking we’d already launched one of our offspring out of the nest and into college, marriage and even parenthood. We had experience – this time would be easier.

We found out that in this case, experience didn’t matter. We found ourselves caught up in the frantic rush to pack, buy a lifetime supply of soap, shampoo, munchies and other necessities, cram everything into one vehicle – then discover we forgot we needed to fit our 6-foot-2-inch kid in the back seat as well.

We spent a long Saturday driving three hours north then hauled everything he owned up EIGHT flights of stairs (he’s on the top floor of his college dorm, of course), shopped for all the stuff we forgot or didn’t have room to pack, hauled that stuff up the stairs, hauled a metal loft kit up the stairs, put the loft kit together after consulting with numerous other confused parents and their college freshman as to how it actually worked (the directions were useless), found a place for everything, hugged our son and then hit the road for a three-hour drive south.

About five minutes after we left, my mommy world came crashing down. That was it – he was on his own for pretty much everything in a new place.

Without me.

Without his dad.

Without his twin brother or big sister.

In my head and in my heart, I saw the blonde, blue-eyed little boy who filled his days by singing, climbing, jumping, drawing and painting and living in an obviously delightful, imaginary world.

Somewhere along the way, that little boy became a young man who had already determined his own path and was stretching his wings.

I know he’s ready to fly, even if I’m not ready for him to go. He’s doing what we raised him to do, to think independently, to chase his dreams, to work hard, to create his own life.

His brother is doing the same thing in his own time, on his own path, not an easy thing for twins who, by their very nature, tend to be lumped together as one unit. He’s exploring the world, going to school and finding his path. He’s still at home, so the nest is not completely empty. But even with him home – he’s almost never home. So it’s pretty quiet at the old homestead. And his room isn’t as messy as it used to be, either.

One of the most difficult things about parenting is letting go and being able to say, “OK. We gave you all we could and taught you what you need to know. Now FLY!” I want to hang on to their last little bits of childhood, but inside I know that would clip their wings.

I’m learning all over again what it’s like to be a young adult, to choose a path and take tentative steps into my own future. It’s exhilarating to watch my own offspring doing it; it’s exhausting – and a little bit sad – to do it myself, because that means life is changing whether I want it to or not.

It makes me look forward to Thanksgiving – because I know the owner of that really clean room will return – and so will the mess.

And I will embrace them both with open arms.



I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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