By age 5, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. I announced to my parents that I would be an artist, live in their garage and take care of them in their old age. My father thought it was sweet and often asked me to repeat my plans. My mother feared I was serious and discouraged my daddy from feeding into it. To me it sounded like a reasonable solution to the fate of leaving home and causing my parents distress.
As an 18-year-old freshman in college, I floundered. What to do with the rest of my life? What goals to set? What classes to take? What path to follow?
The answer to every question led right to the next big party. From there, if I kept at this line of inquiry, the path would lead home to my parents’ garage.
They saw the future clearer than I. My indecision and hesitation motivated my parents to action. They stuck a FOR SALE sign in front of my childhood home and bought a property without a garage. For the record, they haven’t grown old either, but I can’t say how they managed that.
My oldest child turned 18 in August. For weeks, I’ve expected a momentous change. I’ve anticipated that he would up and interrupt one of my weekly monologues with, “I’m grown up. I don’t have to listen to this.”
He has requested only a 30-minute extension of his curfew. That’s it. I granted the request, not grasping its full repercussion, not understanding its deeper meaning.
By age 4, a prodigy compared to me, he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up: “When I set out on my own, I’m going to Australia to live with the Crocodile Hunter.” I pictured him on foot waving goodbye, his possessions tied in a red bandana knotted to the end of a stick over his shoulder.
He’s a senior in high school and the resolve of his youth wavers. I sat him on the stool of truth in the kitchen and interrogated him, “What’s your plan? Where do you want to be this time next year? What do you want to be doing?”
“Living in Australia with the Crocodile Hunter,” was not his reply. For a long while, he said nothing. I felt somewhat guilty for spurring recollections of Croc-man’s passing. But it’s time to face facts. Crocodile Hunter isn’t coming back.
My son didn’t mention his disappointment in the failed Australia run. He instead said, “I just want to keep being a kid.”
Like any mother, I lie in bed late at night letting the parenting mistakes I’ve made pick the flesh from my confidence. They whisper that I ruined him, that he’s the kid who will cling to his therapist’s leg and beg for more time when the hour’s up.
Now I’m thinking I should have made more blunders. Maybe it isn’t too late.
I guess I’m as surprised as he is that we’ve come to this juncture. Sometimes when he walks in the kitchen and asks, “Is dinner almost ready,” I turn to look for a 6-year-old boy with spit-blonde hair sporting dirty knees and a sticky slug.
Pivoting, I face a man with yellow curls rimming a baseball cap. I tell myself that this is supposed to happen, that I don’t want him on the sofa in the den for the rest of our lives.
It’s time to launch this kid. Crocodile Hunter is dead and Australia is off the map. I either have to sell my house or tear down the garage.