“What’s up, Mom?” my 18-year-old son, Phinny, shouts as he trudges in after school, followed by his friends Myles, Dan, and Sheldon. “Hey, Sandra,” the boys call out, dropping their backpacks in the hallway and heading to the fridge, where they immediately cause a bottleneck.
While my son reaches in for the leftover chicken, Myles, a lanky vegetarian, searches the shelves for other snack options, wondering out loud about the fried tofu he had here a few days ago. “Is that all gone?” he asks. I open the new package that I bought with him in mind and wave off his effusive gratitude.
In the meantime, Sheldon, half German and wholly carnivorous, asks if he can cook a sausage. “Of course,” I say and set the toaster oven to broil while Dan bellies up to the kitchen island and cracks opens his copy of Jude the Obscure.
“Have you read it?” Dan asks me.
“I have,” I say. “Years ago.” Soon we are deep into a discussion of Hardy and Faulkner and Hawthorne. Almost nobody else I know — and I teach college English — has Dan’s voracious appetite for the classics.
When Phinny leaves for college in August, I will feel the absence of his huge, hilarious personality booming through the house as he bullies me into kicking around a soccer ball on the sun porch or watching some irreverent YouTube video when I really should be grading papers. “Come on, Mom,” he urges. “What’s five minutes?”
Yes, I will miss my son something fierce, but I’ve been anticipating our arrival at this bittersweet juncture for 18 years. The surprise right now is realizing just how much I will miss my son’s friends, these lovable boys that Phinny met in middle school and has been hanging with — often at our house — for seven years.
Like Phinny, they are funny and sweet and smart, and it’s been a deep pleasure to watch them grow into their own people who excel at what they love. But I’ve never had to discipline them or care about their test scores. I haven’t had to feed them three meals a day for almost two decades, which makes it easy to say yes to Dan’s request for a snack and to laugh at the mess that Myles and his tofu leave behind. When Sheldon wants to try making bubble tea, I find a can of sweetened condensed milk and an hour later we are serving up our cloying brew.
When I lived abroad after college, my friend Paul used to stop by and visit my mom whenever he was in town. He told me that she was always welcoming and just fun to hang out with.
When Sheldon was accepted to Tufts, 10 minutes from our house in Arlington, I gushed over his success in getting into his first-choice school. “Plus,” I said, “you can still come for dinner now and then.”
This whole year has been full of “lasts,” and my husband and I have been feeling every one of them. In May we attended the last high school band concert, where our son’s playing, as well as Myles’s saxophone solo, moved us to tears.
A few weeks ago I took Phinny, Dan, and Sheldon to rent tuxes, and on prom night, my husband and I snapped photos of our son and his friends, so elegantly suited for their rite of passage.
Our daughter is a sophomore in high school, so we still have two years before the nest empties out. But as we found out with Phinny away over April break, it will be a quieter nest without him and his pack of boys. Like the gift of extra sons without the affiliated laundry, they have made our home more joyful over these years and my heart even closer to full.