With swelling regret and a kind of damp pride, I traveled twenty-five hundred miles to Arizona State University the summer of 1992 with my son Ryan, a high-school wrestler and English-class con man, and left him to fend for himself in the desert. I was excruciatingly aware that by the same time the next year my younger son, Darren, then in the process of shedding his reputation as “the good child” and revealing his wilder self, would begin a similarly expanded independence. The mental countdowns that began on New Year's Day for the past two years-“nine months to go before he leaves home”- werelikereversepregnancies.ThedeepbreathingexercisesIlearnedtwenty years ago in preparation for having a baby came in handy again, during the prolonged psychological contractions of letting my sons go.
Then, as now, wild speculations and vague worries about what to expect invaded my sleep with a barrage of questions: Who is this person coming along next? What kind of mother am I supposed to be now? The questions never stopped coming and the answers, from year to year, were never the same. In the ongoing dialectic of motherhood, opposite realities could be simultaneously true: two decades ago, my sons were the most lovable and stimulating creatures on the planet; they were also the most draining and fractious human beings I'd ever known. Now I didn't want my grown sons, my daily buddies, to leave home; I also couldn't wait for their ravenous