A couple of months ago, my son and only child came to me and said, "You are impossible to live with. I'm moving out."
"With what money?" I said. My partner of five-odd years laughed.
"You're moving out? You don't even know how to wash your own socks!"
With trepidation, I watched my son plan his entrance into the adult world. Feeling a bit more motherly than I had since the teenage goat-boy stink began to surround him at the age of 13, I judged his adult wings as malformed and began to dispense indispensable advice.
"When you get your own place, you need to clean it at least once weekly."
"When you get your own place, a month of snack plates shoved beneath the bed are your problem."
"When you get your own place, you have to budget your money."
"I know, Mom. Do you think I'm an idiot?"
I kept my mouth shut.
So the day of his departure drew near. Instead of the imagined scenario of looking at his dorm room in the warm early-autumn light, instead of kissing his cheek while the rest of him was clad in a military dress suit, instead of saying goodbye at an airport as he left to see the world, I watched my 16-year-old son pack dirty socks and a Chinese takeaway container into a box of DVDs. He had found a room in a house up the street about a seven-minute walk from our home.
I came face to face with two enormous landmarks that women traditionally struggle with: a son with a steady girlfriend, and an empty nest. All at the grand old age of 34.
I had spent my entire adult life as a mother. Never made a decision as a woman for just myself. It was always for us. What was I going to do?
My partner said, "Well, I know what I'm going to do. I am going to walk around the house without pants."
"You already walk around the house without pants," I said.
"Maybe," I mused to my son, "we'll turn your room into a love-nasium."
"You guys are so bloody weird," the boy said, walking away from us.
At last, moving day was upon us. With great shoving, huffing and puffing, my son moved his things, with the help of someone I had never seen, to his own place up the street. I closed and locked the door, went up to his former room, pinched my nose and opened the window.
The room was still messy, covered in debris. Then, I noticed, the house settled into a deep and serene quiet. No heartbeat thud of bass from a stereo, no heckling shouts directed at the TV, no teenage boys wrestling.
Just silence … and space. Space.
I am an only child, making my son a second-generation only child. With little more than 18 years between us, we were often more like two kids hashing it out.
"You ate all my Whitman samplers, you greedy bugger," I'd say.
"You ate a bunch of my Halloween candy," he would retort. "Fatass," he'd mutter.
Other times, we'd bicker over possessions. "You lost the Empire Strikes Back DVD," I'd shout. "And where is my copy of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?"
"You wore out the batteries in my remote-control car!" he'd wail, arriving home from school after I had spent an afternoon teasing the dog with it.
But we made it through both of our childhoods. I was a late bloomer.
Now, all that was over. I had no curfew to impose, no need to hide the junk food. No more banging on a door shouting, "Turn it down, we're trying to sleep."
"I don't feel bad at all," I said to my partner as we ate our first empty-nest meal together.
The next day, I began a flurry of activity. I cleaned the boy's former room, scrubbing the walls of greasy handprints, finding the white doorknob under a skin of brown.
My partner arrived home to me moving a loveseat up the stairs. "We have a new sofa arriving tomorrow; the boy's room is now a TV room."
"What about the love-nasium?"
"Well, the love-nasium can be your room," I said.
"All right," he replied.
The peace. The silence. Somehow, his moving away, even just up the street, has settled something within me. I do not have so much clutching terror. When I read news about violence between young people, I do not think of him, out there somewhere, out past his curfew, doing harm or being the recipient of violence. My love is easier, less fraught.
My crooked-winged son – too young to be gone, but gone he is.
I am young enough to have another child, I sometimes think. The guest room could become a nursery.
However, I want to raise just him, all over again. Knowing all I know now.
So my nest is empty. What do I miss?
The chance to become the good mother I never was, nor thought I could be. To say the right thing that mends all the wounds inflicted by my youth, my ignorance and my impatience.
My son knocks on the front door now. When he is here, I force a glass of milk upon him, offering him fruit, raisins and fresh produce to take home.
"I'm worried you don't get enough calcium," I say.
What I really mean is that I'm worried about him alone in the world. That I love him. That I'm sorry. That I cannot account for the years. That I cannot cease wondering, "Where did my child go?"
I thought I had time to make my mistakes up to him.
Theresa Nyenhuis lives in Peterborough, Ont.