circles post image

I’m writing a chapter for my book about 2005. The year my boys were three and thirteen.

One was in a band, the other in training pants. It felt like my life was circling back on itself at the same time it was charging into uncharted territory.

On the Christmas video that year, the older says, “I got $40 on iTunes! That’s crazy!” He’d fallen hard for music in the months before–Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Oasis–and had just opened his dream gift, an MP3 player.

On the same video the younger says, “Why does Santa not say ha ha ha or hee hee hee?”

Almost a decade apart. Different worlds.

* * *

In June, Chris and I took the younger one to visit the older two in Brooklyn. Bittersweet trip–H would be moving back to California after eleven years in New York City. His sister has been there for seven, is starting her second year of grad school. It was the last time we’d visit both of them there.

Dropping H off at college in 2010 seems like a lifetime ago. Leaving him there in New York City, alone.

Back then, I wrote a post about it. Darned homeschooling. About having a kid decide to go to college clear across the country. That post got shared by a popular blogger and went kind of viral, back when blogs could make things go viral.

That seems like a lifetime ago, too.

In the weeks before he left, I’d find myself awake at night, worrying over what I’d forgotten to teach him, provide for him. One night two weeks before he went, it hit me: we needed a professional family photo! The desire felt so important. It was something I’d been meaning to do to for months. Now he wouldn’t be home until November, or December, and the light would be terrible for photos then, right?

Such a strange thing to worry about, but I understand it now. I wanted evidence of the five of us, before one of us was gone. So important, that desire. I found a local photographer willing to squeeze us into her schedule.

* * *

I’ve been compiling fragments for my 2005 chapter. Writing them by hand on index cards. Little snippets.

The older catching the younger picking his nose. “You do that and you won’t have any friends.”

The younger thinking for a moment, saying, “I have cousins!”

* * *

He’s nineteen now, that younger one. Finally getting to go off to college himself, after a freshman year of Zoom history classes, composition classes. Foundations of Television–on a screen. In his boyhood bedroom.

He’s heading to Chicago. To study Comedy Filmmaking and history.

I’m being so lackadaisical about it. He goes in less than a month. I have the airbnb booked, got tickets for the architecture boat tour, but we haven’t bought anything. No winter clothes, no comforter. We haven’t done the Bed Bath & Beyond thing you do when your kid is heading to college in some far-flung place, scanning desired items at a local store to have them magically waiting at your destination.

I’ve done this twice; I know how. But still, I haven’t taken him down to the store.

Well, it’s not true about me not buying anything. I ordered a package of three face masks because he keeps losing them. Also, a year’s worth of contact lenses.

Protection and vision–what more could a mother want for her child?

What more does he need?

* * *

One of my favorite shots by that photographer eleven years ago was the one by our back door, centered on T, the other four of us at his sides.

He was so small. Not quite nine years old, just halfway through his childhood and his brother was leaving, heading to New York City.

photo by Mary McHenry

* * *

Almost ten years apart in 2005. Three and thirteen, they’d still play.

The older would chase the younger with a foam sword, shove it in his back, say, “I’ve impaled you. You’re dead.”

The younger would fall backward in slow motion, tongue lolling as he made death groans. He’d let his head flop back last, for effect.

At which point I’d tell the older that this might be slightly inappropriate play for a three-year-old. That I didn’t want him impaling other kids at the park.

He always had the same response, “But he likes it!”

* * *

Seven years of dinners with just his dad and me, his siblings off in New York. When his sister left, he was almost thirteen. Thirteen, here we were again. Circles. Shared dinners have always been the heart of our family, and I felt bad that so many of his would be with just us two. “We’re sorry you’re stuck with us old farts,” we’d say.

He’d make it fun. At first with Batman lore and explanations of quasars. These days it’s maps showing the evolution of the English language. Also Limmy videos.

His brother is coming home to stay for a while while he plans what comes next. A full month here together, before the younger goes.

The night I picked him up late at the airport, his brother said, “This is probably our last dinner with just us three, after seven years.”

I had to eat fast that night, planning to visit a friend who is having a hard time before heading to the airport. It was probably for the better. If I had to think of what that dinner meant, I might have fallen apart.

* * *

The night before, his brother had texted a photo. His last night in New York City; he and his girlfriend went to Manhattan for dinner. They stopped in front of his first dorm and took a shot for old time’s sake.

We couldn’t say our goodbyes there, eleven years ago. Too public. We’d walked a block away, searching for a private place to say our goodbyes in a city without private places. On a side street by a church, beneath an iron fence with speared posts, we hugged and cried. It felt impossible, leaving him alone in New York City.

* * *

There are four of us at the table, for a month at least.

At dinner we discuss how the younger will be back in the kitchen at midnight, making his second dinner. Potstickers. Chinese noodles.

The older says, “You do that and your roommates will hate you.”

The younger says, “We’ll see. They might be late-nighters too.”

(What I hear him say: “I have cousins!”)

photo by Mary McHenry

* * *

They’ve been going to the climbing gym. They took a class to learn how to belay each other. One climbs and the other holds the rope down below, just in case. Then they release the rope in bursts, in blips of time, let the other down.

“He always lets me down too fast,” says the younger.

“He gets a little scared at the top,” says the older. “But he does it.”

Taking turns, switching roles. Vision and protection.

* * *

One of these days, I want to replicate that photo by our back door, centered on the youngest. He’s taller than all of us now.

We’re taking him to Chicago in three weeks, leaving him there.

This week I will take him to Bed Bath & Beyond. We will order a comforter and a bedside light. And a wok for his midnight snacks.

I wonder what will start keeping me awake at night in the next few weeks. What have I forgotten to teach him, provide for him? I’m being so lackadaisical about it; it hasn’t hit me. My youngest, my sunshine, the one whose childhood passed so slowly because I wasn’t always looking forward, worrying. I’d done it all before. With him it was easier to stay in the moment. Enjoy him.

Almost twenty years of him. Seven years of dinners, just him. He’s leaving for Chicago.

It feels like my life is circling back on itself at the same time it’s charging into uncharted territory.

Once they go, it’s never the same. I know that now. They make lives of their own, elsewhere. They come back, but they’re visitors. People with tales of far-off people and places who forget where we keep the salad spinner.

I will cry for the whole flight back from Chicago. I’ve done it twice, I know. I will walk by his empty bedroom and my chest will feel socked.

But at least it won’t be just two of us at the table, not yet.

Life keeps circling. They come back.

24 comments… add one
  • Jacques Gautreaux Aug 9, 2021 @ 10:48

    Hi Trisha,
    This is beautifully written. I really enjoyed reading it. Made me misty…I remember when all of your kids were born…you were the first of our friends to have babies. Yes I feel old! Congratulations on raising some fine humans!
    Your friend always!

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 8:26

      Aw, thanks for reading, Jacques! And for showing up here to say hello. It means a lot to me. And I love: “Your friend always!” Makes me feel like we’re signing each other’s yearbooks again…Your friend always right back!

  • Melissa Schoenwether Aug 9, 2021 @ 11:32

    I remember the original post. I cried. And now, in 2 weeks my middle kid, the boy of 3 kids, I am taking to college. On a ferry for a day, then driving for a day. Just the 2 of us. It was me, him and his kid sister together when we dropped the eldest off at college. She and he graduated this May, same day, one high school, one 4 plane rides away graduating college. Everything you have shared resonates.
    One small moment I wanted to share was during Covid lockdown. Eldest daughter has to come home from college. Mother’s Day morning I woke up and my husband quietly whispered, “this year you get last years wish…” and I did. I had said the year before that I always knew they would grow, but I never understood that they would *go*…and that I just ached not having a regular Sunday afternoon to cook and eat alongside each other. I hope in the future I get surprised by moments seeing these 3 friends, that have grown up together as sisters and brother, together here under our roof. It’s been heartbreakingly wonderful joy to have these times together, and your beautiful post is such a lovely, lovely reminder.

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 8:38

      Melissa, you remember the original post? That means you’ve been reading here for a very long time–thank you! I’m so glad you’ve shared your stories with me. I love so much that my story has given an opportunity for others to share their own experiences. It puts us in this nest of common experience that is so beautiful to me. Your Mother’s Day story makes me cry. Yes, I get it. My daughter is home for a week, so I have them all here for a little while. It’s everything.

      Sending love for that trip with your boy in a few weeks.

  • Carrie Pomeroy Aug 9, 2021 @ 11:38

    Oh my gosh, if I wasn’t reading this in a public place, I would be losing it. This is so bittersweet and full of love and humor. Big hugs and love to you with this transition.

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:37

      Thanks for being with me through it all, Carrie. <3

  • Sarah Aug 9, 2021 @ 12:01

    Real tears in my eyes as I read this. Mine are 4yo and 7yo (as you know) and the grief I feel at the beginning of this school year is palpable and like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I want to let them go because that’s is how they grow, and yet I am still learning how to handle my own heart in the magnitude of that letting go.

    I am — and will be — thinking of you these next few weeks. (Make sure that comforter is warm — Chicago is a cold place in the winter.)

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:41

      Oh, Sarah. Motherhood is just one letting-go after another. That’s the nature of it, isn’t it? Which is why we love them up when we have them, I guess.

      The comforter is definitely a metaphor. Me being with him when I’m not with him–so, yes, it will have to be warm! <3

  • Jody Aug 9, 2021 @ 12:07

    Oh good lord…SOBBING! Such a beautiful bit of writing…I can hear you thinking.
    We’ll never stop worrying and wondering what we didn’t teach them. I made a blanket apology to both of mine at some point and ultimately blamed them because THEY are the ones who taught me to be a parent (!) I still lay awake…pretty sure we always will. Theo’s evolution is such fun to witness…can’t wait for what’s next. Xoxox

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:45

      Oh, my friend. That you can hear me thinking is a compliment that means so much–that’s always my goal in writing.

      And yes, my kids have always been my best teachers. Damn kids.

      At least when we’re lying awake at night, we can know that maybe the other is lying awake across the street! xo.

  • Heather Aug 9, 2021 @ 12:08

    I have traveled along as you have taken this journey. This brings tears as I begin this phase taking our oldest to college next week. Today was a dental visit and haircut. Tonight Target with his future roommate. For the next two years there will be four of us and then three and then just the two of us until they circle back. Thank you for sharing a view from ahead.

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:48

      Heather, you have been reading along here for so long, and I’m grateful!

      And now you’re taking your oldest to college! Oh, those last days of appointments and preparing them…they are the most tender days. Sending you my best as you make your way. xo.

  • Nicola Aug 9, 2021 @ 13:46

    You made me cry, again, Tricia. And this post reminds me of one you wrote when you had just left L in NY. Adorable how much H and T looked alike at 13. Maybe instead of empty nesting it should be circular nesting. Hugs.

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:53

      Yes, all the leavings! Thank you for reading along here for such a long time, Nicola.

      Circular nesting–I like that!

      All the best to you and your crew. 🙂

  • Sarah M Aug 9, 2021 @ 21:09

    Oh wow. I’m ugly crying here. My kids are only 14 and 12, but this just got me:

    “Once they go, it’s never the same. I know that now. They make lives of their own, elsewhere. They come back, but they’re visitors. People with tales of far-off people and places who forget where we keep the salad spinner.”

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:55

      I’m sorry I made you cry, Sarah! But I’m glad yours are just 14 and 12. Love them up!

  • emily Aug 9, 2021 @ 21:29

    “I have cousins!” is everything.

    • patricia Aug 10, 2021 @ 10:57

      It’s a favorite Theoism! And I know you will remember it and reuse when appropriate. 🙂

  • Monica M Aug 10, 2021 @ 12:11

    LOVE this! It made my heart ache and explode with joy at the same time. Thanks for sharing your gift, so beautifully told. All of us “empty nesters’” can relate. My oldest is back too. Another amazing phase in life. I hope to see you soon.

    • patricia Aug 12, 2021 @ 11:22

      Hi Monica! Hearts aching and exploding at the same time–that’s pretty much what it is to parent a young adult, isn’t it? How funny that we’re both in the same phase with our oldests back home. I sure hope that sometime when you come up to see your girl, we can meet up again for coffee or something! xo.

  • Rich Boschetti Aug 11, 2021 @ 7:11


    I am so touched, your words allow us to read your heart and touches all who take the time to read what you have to share. Your words are even more powerful for all of us who are parents. You capture the essense of family and parenthood and the sentences below moved me because they are so true, so meaningful and so much what all parents come to know.

    “Once they go, it’s never the same. I know that now. They make lives of their own, elsewhere. They come back, but they’re visitors. People with tales of far-off people and places who forget where we keep the salad spinner.”

    You have a special gift my friend and one that I hope you continue to share with all of us. Love comes in many shapes and forms, thank you for sharing your heart, your love, your passion with all of us.

    Rich Boschetti

    • patricia Aug 12, 2021 @ 11:26

      Hi Mr. B! It always amazes me what the power of story can do, how it can connect us. Thank you for encouraging me, way back when and now.

  • CathyT Aug 11, 2021 @ 17:12

    This is so sweet and bittersweet and gosh, you are a great writer! Thank you for sharing a part of you and your life with us (me).

    • patricia Aug 12, 2021 @ 11:29

      Thank you CathyT! Your devoted reading and encouragement here mean so much to me. xo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.