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Thu May 20, 2004
Scent of My Last Born Child
Like many a parent in these late days of spring, Paul finds himself adjusting to an empty nest.
By Paul Wilkes
Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Paul's commentary.]
I sat for a moment on the unmade bed of my son Daniel. And I inhaled deeply. In Daniel?s bedroom, there is a certain scent. Not a bad odor or anything like that, just his unique scent. That of a strapping eighteen-year-old boy.
And, as he graduates from New Hanover High School this week, I realize that he ? and that scent ? will soon be gone. He?ll soon be off to college and when he returns, it will be as a visitor. On his terms, not mine. I, once so much his present, am now rapidly becoming part of his past. He?s leaving home; his face is to the future.
And soon, that room will be neat and tidy, just like his brother Noah?s, who graduated from the same high school two years ago. No clothes on the floor, no piles of papers and books. The scent will fade and then, it too, will be gone.
There were other scents that marked his life: baby powder in those tiny creases, Play Doh under his fingernails, lubricant from a skateboard?and, more recently, after shave cologne. But that pervasive scent in his bedroom, that?s the one I?ll remember best.
He will soon be gone, and Tracy and I will have our life back, after some twenty years. We can go on those overnight trips now, cook what we want, just like when we were first married. But, of course, it?s not that simple or clean.
Once a parent, always a parent. When we go to bed each night, we?ll wonder where he is. Wonder if anything we said or did steered him well or not during that day. We?ll wonder if we did enough, cared enough, loved enough, sacrificed enough. We?ll wonder if our actions spoke louder than our words and if those actions will somehow matter in his life
I guess it?s because we love our children so much that they have the power to both make us so blissfully happy and to absolutely destroy us.
As we held him so tightly as a baby and gradually, over the years, loosened our grasp, we should be ready for this. Now comes the time of letting go, turning loose. So that he can find who he is, without us hovering about.
I thought it would be easier than this, but it?s not. Theoretically, I have it down pat ? turn him loose, let him fly. Be there if he needs me, but stand back. Yes, I understand all that.
In these few months left, I will try to wean myself from him as he weaned himself from his mother years ago ? years that are now a blur of mostly sweet memories.
But, in the meantime, when he?s not around, I?ll climb the stairs every once in a while?and sit on that unmade bed in that messy room. And I?ll just take in? a deep breath.
Paul Wilkes is the creator of New Beginnings, a church revitalization program.