A friend writes of helping her daughter move out of state, writes of the empty space she anticipates this will leave in her home and her life. I recall a conversation we had a few months ago when we spoke of this daughter, a beautiful young woman in her early 20’s, an only child who was living at home after college, working and beginning to make her way in the world. At that point in time, her mother was both grateful she was still at home, but also just a little concerned, knowing it is important for young people to find their independence, to have a life of their own apart from their parents.
“I don’t want her to move out, not really,” my friend said, “but at the same time I feel as if she should.”
And now she is - moving away to follow a new job opportunity in a new city, where she will meet new friends and create her own unique life.
Moving out. Moving away. It’s all part of that “letting go” dance we parents start practicing from the moment our children leave the safety of the womb. For those of us who are parents of only children, the moving away part has a huge impact. My friend is right - the space they leave behind is SO empty - it’s more than just an extra chair at the dinner table, a few less towels to wash or groceries to buy. It's a hollow hole, a missing side to the triangle. It tips years of carefully balanced family life on it’s side.
Our son has now lived away from us as long as he lived with us. I have had this milestone marker always in the back of my head for a long time. That in October 2016, Brian will have been gone from home for 18 years, the same number of years he lived with us. It has always been a slightly frightening milestone to me, as if at that time the statute of limitations on being a mother would disappear, and I would have to finally acknowledge that he wouldn’t be back.
At the time he moved away to Florida for college, I wasn’t thinking any farther than how to get through the next couple of years without him. How I could manage to get myself to Florida every couple of months to see him, to clean his apartment, cook some real food for him. How I could carry on being a mother and doing those motherly things for just a little bit longer.
Then he finished school. Then he got married. He started his own life in a new place, and I started to realize he wouldn’t be back. That one decision had changed the entire trajectory of his life forever.
The older I get, the more amazed I am when I look backward and see the long-term effects of decisions and events. When Brian moved to Florida for college, it set up a series of irrevocable changes I didn’t imagine. After all, I had no prior experience with this concept of moving far away from home. But it’s only common sense now to realize that when you leave home at 18, young and wide open to possibility, your life will create itself in your new surroundings. You will meet people there, make connections there, establish yourself there, plan your future there.
I recently learned about the science of forensic geology - the ability to determine where someone is from by analyzing chemical markers in their bones. Chemical residues from the environment leach into our bones and leave unique and discernible traces. It’s fascinating. Forensic geologists are able to determine not only what region of the world a person is from, but the exact area, right down to specific portions of a state in some cases. In one instance, it was possible to discern that the remains were from a specific coal mining region in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“I wonder what the chemical markers in our bones are?” I asked Jim this morning, both of us having spent all our six decades in and around Detroit.
“Probably rusty car parts,” he joked. “Or scraps from steel mills."
It’s true, we’re a couple of that rare breed who has NEVER left home - at least not for more than a few days. We’ve stuck like glue to this Midwestern territory where we grew up, and, in my husband’s case, only just a few years ago leaving the very house he was born in. The hum of assembly lines and manufacturing plants were our lullabies, the pervasive automotive culture was the lifeblood of our families. Owning a home at all was made possible because of car-building and the good living it provided. Most of the time, we feel as if we fit here. When we think about leaving at all, it’s mostly to escape from the dreaded cold and confinement winter brings.
Home, wherever it is, obviously marks us indelibly. Within nations, regions, cities, neighborhoods, there are distinct cultures to which we acclimate and adjust emotionally and physically. We choose our homes for different reasons of course - for jobs, for nearness of family, for climate, for economics. Once chosen, we assimilate ourselves by gathering like minded friends and finding meaningful leisure activities. The more deeply entrenched we become, the more difficult it is to leave, to seek out new homes, or return to old one. The place seeps into our bones, quite literally in fact.
It only takes 10 years away from a place for those geochemical markers to change. I imagine my son’s bones bear traces of the salt air and sunshine from his decade of living on the southwest coast of Florida, but the composition is already shifting after three years of living in the dry plains of northern Texas.
And because children’s bones are the most porous, soaking up the highest tracings of their environment, my grandson is a “pure Texan" - right down to his little bones.
At least he is until he grows up and leaves home.