My 12-year-old son looked sad. "I don't want him to go to college," he told me when I asked what was wrong. In less than two years, his older brother—his idol, his only sibling and his best friend—would be going to college. And he would suffer. It had happened to me back in elementary school, when my older sister left for college. "I know, I know," was all I could say to my son, and I offered a hug.
"But aren't you going to miss him?" he asked.
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Before I knew what I was saying, I blurted, "I miss him already."
Long before my last child stopped believing in Santa, I already missed the milk and cookies on the coffee table on Christmas Eve. Months before he began commuting to high school by train, I started missing my older son's bobbing head amid the dozens of middle school kids walking toward the car pool line. Even today, years before it will happen, I miss the sound of my husband and two sons coming through the back door together after shoveling and snowblowing the driveway and walks.
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Don't all mothers do this? Anticipate future departures, coming changes, the unavoidable wonderful and awful shifts in family life that pull us apart, bring us together, alter the family structure and routines we know and treasure?
My husband says I torture myself with my anticipatory losses, and I'd be much better off simply savoring the current moments. He's right. And maybe it's just the writer in me who can watch a family scene unfold and wonder, a bit sadly, how I might one day describe it when those moments, those scenes, exist only in memory.