As of late, our family unit is looking a little bit smaller, about twenty-five percent smaller, to be exact. With the older boy being a high school senior who works and has a girlfriend, more and more dinner conversations, outings, and movie-watching evenings include only Jim, the younger boy, and me.

It’s weird.

We’re in the final six month stretch: the older boy will be away at college starting this fall. While I look forward to this next major transition because it means that he is one step closer to being the independent adult we have been raising him to be, of course there is a bittersweet taste to it all.

When I start to feel sad though, I remind myself that children aren’t meant to stay with their parents forever. They are meant to leave home and start their own lives, cutting the cord that binds us, and our parental reward is seeing them succeed without our constant assistance.

Those of us that will be left behind this fall will be minus a family member only in body, not in spirit. There will always be a place for him at the dinner table, whenever he wants to come home for visits. The permanence of his moving out will be very strange, as we really never dreamed when he was born nearly eighteen years ago that we would ever actually get to this point. The good news is, the world works in wonderful ways: I know we’re in training for the actual transition right now. It’s not a situation where he’s here all of the time now and then tomorrow he’s not; we’re blessed to be going through this gradually. To be honest, it’s fine. It actually feels…nice.

When it’s just three of us, conversations are different. Good, but different. There is no sibling-style jostling for position. It’s a little less chaotic. It’s quiet. It’s…comfortable.*

Jim and I have had many moments over the past couple of years during which we felt like we’ve been short-changing–unintentionally, mind you–the younger boy because of the sharp focus on the goings-on of his brother. The Boy Scout Eagle Project, the college search, the scholarship hunt, and reconciling his busy schedule with that of the rest of the family have all been big inconveniences to the younger boy. It couldn’t be helped. We often worry about his feeling left out, left behind, or jealous of the attention his older brother is afforded, but in checking in with his emotions regularly we remind him that it’ll be “all him” around here in a matter of months. It’s funny; when the younger boy was a newborn, we were often worried that we were short-changing–unintentionally, mind you–the older boy because of the sharp focus on the goings-on of his baby brother. I guess it’s all a normal part of the juggling act that parents do, always trying to keep things completely fair, even though, really, that’s impossible. Yet we still try.

I often think about how very cool it is that we had nearly three years alone with the older boy in those special toddler years before the younger boy came along, and how very cool it is going to be that we will have three years alone with the younger boy in these special teen years before he follows his brother to (not necessarily the same) college. As I look across the dinner table at the young man he’s become, occasionally in the shadow of someone else, I am so proud.

I’m also filled with great anticipation about the magic the next three years will show us. I say, bring it on.

*It is like this when it’s just us with the older boy, too.

©2010 Suburban Scrawl