The Long Goodbye
I slowed my pace Saturday afternoon. I fell back to savor the view. Six long, suntanned legs in step, striding along a wide, dirt path. I wasn’t straining to hear the conversation, but I couldn’t help hearing the laughter. I just wanted to look.
In my arms: Sam’s black trousers, rumpled white button down shirt, black belt, black tie, black socks, and dust-covered black shoes. It’d taken him a few trips into his cabin at camp to find everything he’d need to wear for the concert that night. I cradled the outfit, remembering trips to Macy’s and Target to secure each item, several of which have been pressed into service for years.
A summer of firsts. This isn’t Sam’s first time at music camp. It’s actually his fifth. But it’s the first time his sibs have been able to visit. Instead of going away on their own adventures, they’ve spent the summer close to home. Lily’s been working in a produce market. Max has been punching in at Economy Hardware and training for soccer. They’ve both been getting ready to apply to colleges (emphasis on the getting). Sam will take an extra year before he’s at this stage. He’s going to boarding school in September for another go at junior year before rushing headlong into college madness. While he finishes off music camp this week, Lily, Max, and I will visit colleges.
Sam will leave home first. It’s a year earlier than I’d anticipated. I thought I was done with my grieving, having had my fill of middle-of-the night waking this past spring. I was wrong. It’s all right at the surface again, and I am mourning the loss of time with gifted, goofy Sam. But I’m not the only one grieving. Lily and Max are having to figure out the letting-go themselves. “It’s like missing a piece of a puzzle,” Lily tells me. “When we’re together, it’s like, ‘Ahh. Yeah. There’s that missing piece.’” As with everything else in our family, things are complicated. The celebrations. The milestones. The losses. There are inevitable feelings of comparison and competition that are known to all families with children, but these are magnified exponentially with multiples. Who talked first? Walked? Rode a bike? Started dating? And now: the first to leave home?
The competition evaporated — at least for a little while Saturday — as the three fell in together. I wanted to stand right next to Sam and hear the full report. But instead, I hung back. I marveled at the three sets of long legs with the same intensity that I counted toes after their birth. I thought about the almost 18 years of work Mark and I have done to create a family where these three can delight in such close connection and also claim what each needs and knows. I loved.