We have a lot of changes going on in the Miles house. Our kitchen is packed entirely in boxes on the back porch so that we can make way for a new one. Since the old kitchen cabinets were from 1940, it was time to let it go. The funny thing was how the process started. We gradually packed the canned food and took it down the basement. The dishes that we never use were easily loaded up and carried away. And then the pots and pans. Then the plastic ware. Then the glasses. Then the water bottles. Then the plates were replaced with paper. It happened over days, not all at once. We had our last dinner in the dining room, our last cooked meal in the old kitchen. But we just can't let go of the bowls. Or the spoons. The dining room table sits in the middle of the living room with a tray in the middle piled with the paper products and a "spooner," which holds a bunch of spoons and was a wedding present from my wonderful friend Cathey, who grew up in the South and introduced us to this concept years ago - Best Thing Ever! So can you get the picture? The living room also holds "the silver rack," not a wedding present, but a great buy from Target that kind of makes us feel like we are going for a retro-look bakery. On this is peanut butter and jelly, bread, tea bags, and about five bags of opened and half eaten snacks, and a dwindling supply of every cereal ever known to man. Cereal is the best. No cooking. No prepping. No cutting. No spreading. It's so stinking easy! Oatmeal - not so much. You have to have it hot and you have to add liquid, and that means finding a water supply - not easy without a kitchen. Anyway, the house is a mess. So the last bowl of oatmeal had already been served.
But really the greatest change happening now is getting ready for my oldest son, my first, to go off to college. It started gradually, much in the same way the kitchen packing does. I can go all the way back to preK and think about how it began. First they go off to preschool. I was so worried that day that he would fall into a puddle of tears before walking in, but as soon as the teacher came to the door, he scooted right by her and up the steps and never looked back. I walked home that morning in a bit of confusion. What just happened? Did he really go in without a tear, without a glance back? I'm his mother - at least he owed me that! I remember our first parent teacher conference - how nerve wracking! That is an experience that is way underrated on the emotional scale. Then grade school, and middle school, and high school. All the firsts that comprise a life with a child. The first baseball game, the first lost tooth, the first hockey coach, the first broken bone, the first date, the first car accident. I can remember somewhere in the midst of that when he came in to our bedroom and lay down on the bed to tell us about his day and I thought, "Is this the last time he will do this?" When do you get too old to hang out with your mom on her bed? Then the first college application. It all seemed like a natural part of the course that we were on. But it is more like knocking a wall down in your house. First you kind of have an idea of what you want, then you have all these papers to fill out to see if what you want actually fits in the space you have. You invite all these people to take a look at all you have done and critique you and your ideas and "let you know..." Then you try out different colors and styles and you make adjustments. While the pictures and videos of California universities look really good, do you really, really, REALLY want to go all the way there right now? It's fun to vacation there, but to live there, FOREVER? Just like the black windows and brown walls and orange ceiling might look good in a coffee shop, they don't really work for everyday life in your own kitchen. So we make plans and we dream big and then we adjust. We make guesstimates at what it will actually look like. Kitchens and colleges. I can't even imagine him gone. I was going off to college when Cathey lived next door to us. Her husband jokingly told my mother that she had to 'break the plate' that I had eaten on, another southern tradition. My mother was not happy. I'm not either! I'm making guesstimates about how our life is going to be and what it is going to look like. And he is making his own about what college life is going to be like. On one college tour, the guide asked him, "Do you really think we say Go Irish to each other all day long? No, we don't." Ok, good to know. And so it goes. Dream. Adjust. Learn.
What I wasn't counting on in the midst of all the changes were the other adjustments going on in our house at the same time. The family room is full of the cabinets we are putting together ourselves and there is quite literally no wiggle room. Same with college. Jay might be getting ready to leave, and I might be sad or happy, depending on the day, but everyone is impacted. The boys are angling for who is going to move into Jay's room, while Annie is counting on the fact that she gets his car. But there is also some tugging of the heart strings there too. I can see when they talk to him, they gaze just a little bit longer, laugh just a little bit harder, or at least I think they do. This process of a slow goodbye is squishing out into all our other spaces in our lives in ways I wasn't prepared for.
So now we've been counting the lasts. The last homecoming, the last football game, the last tournament, the last hockey game, the last class, the last Mother's Club event, and last sports banquet. The school years are no longer a string of celebrations of firsts, but the quick pass through the season of lasts. And at home too. One night just before we took the oven out of the kitchen, Jay came home late from practice. For some reason there was no dinner left. He was hungry and looking through the cereal boxes. "Do you want me to make you Oatmeal?" I asked. He looked around, trying to judge how busy I was and if I really meant it. "Would you?" he said. "Of course!" I jumped out of my seat and got busy, thinking all the while, would this be the Last Bowl of Oatmeal?
I know there is something that will linger through the change, like the bowls and the spooner. I will find something to hold onto him, to keep me hopeful, something to keep out on display to say to ourselves, "There will be more bowls of oatmeal." There will be trips home and laundry and dinners together. There will be first football games and parents' weekend. There will be time at Christmas and time in the summer and family vacations. I will keep his picture - maybe right in the middle of the kitchen table. In the bowl I used to make his last bowl of oatmeal.