About an hour ago, Mrs. M and I concluded ten hours on the road, coming home from getting the Spawn settled in her new apartment on the fringe of the U of Maryland. I’ve showered, and thrown a load of laundry into the washer. So this is how we became empty nesters, I guess.
Mrs. M had some professional development to attend on Monday and Tuesday, so the Spawn and I loaded up her new car and headed up via Charlotte and Durham, where we caught I-95 and did the usual stop-and-go from Richmond to Terpville. We had lunch in Charlotte, at the burger joint we visit every year at Heroes Con.
Her apartment is in a community that caters to grad students, and she and Mrs. M got a lot of the basics in place when they were up there the week before last. It’s a cute little place, much nicer than the one where I lived from 1987-89, or from 1998-2002, for that matter. The fact that it has a good air conditioner already sets it apart from my old digs.
After we unloaded the Spawnmobile, we went to a nearby Outback Steakhouse and grabbed a couple of burgers before returning to her place and calling it a night. We ran a couple of minor errands on Wednesday as we waited for Mrs. M to arrive. She got there around 4 p.m., having left Mondoville at about 6:30 that morning. The woman’s energy level is terrifying. Upon her arrival, we got the bulk of the Spawn’s worldly possessions unloaded, and then let her relax and prepare for the next day’s assistantship interview while Mrs. M and I went out for dinner. We drove to the restaurant at the nearby IKEA, where Mrs. M had salmon and I went for something equally traditional.
Never having been to an IKEA before, I wandered around a bit, and found some items I think I’d like, though I’m pretty sure I couldn’t assemble them.
When we got back to the apartment, Mrs. M ironed curtains for the kitchen and bedroom, and I caught up on some e-mail. And that was Wednesday.
The next day, while the Spawn geared up for her interview, Mrs. M and I went on a quest for a chest of drawers at a nearby thrift shop. We were unsuccessful, but that may have been just as well. It seemed as though every such item weighed at least 13,000 pounds, and the Spawn lives up a flight of fifteen stairs. On the upside, I found a few books, including a Patricia Highsmith and a recent printing of Iceberg Slim’s Pimp.
By the time we had finished looking around, it was time for lunch, so we tried a place called Krazi Kebob, which advertises itself as an Indian/Pakistani/Mexican restaurant. The concept seemed a little odd, but I can attest that the beef keema wrapped in garlic naan with tikka masala, mint chutney, and assorted other goodies made for a very nice burritoesque experience. Mrs. M went for a bowl of rice with chicken tikka, and was equally pleased. The staff were quite amiable, and made us quite welcome, even offering tips about places the Spawn might want to visit and giving Mrs. M a bonus chocolate-chip cookie.
Then it was time for the Spawn’s interview, which she thinks went well, but we won’t know until at least Tuesday, so feel free to send those requests to St. Jerome. And since she was already dressed for the interview, she went ahead and got her student ID. Then she realized that she was so nervous about the interview that she had overlooked the fact that her name was misspelled on the ID, so she went back and got a new one. After that, the Spawn settled in with her home cooking (and a phone call with the Main Squeeze), and Mrs. M and I went to another place that yokels like me don’t usually go — the Whole Foods Market in the Riverdale Plaza (a shopping center marked by a nifty sculpture of a cartoonish airplane with windmill propeller. For some reason, I think I may have written either about that sculpture or a similar one during my magazine days. Either way, it was neat.)
We decided to eat at their ready-made foods bar, and upon fixing myself some spaghetti and meatballs, I discovered that even this humble meal can come with some sticker shock. It was good food, though. And that was Thursday.
Friday was marked by an unsuccessful effort to get the Spawn a Maryland driver’s license. While we had a copy of her birth certificate, apparently the original version with embossed seal was required, and that was back in Mondoville. However, the supervisor on duty was quite nice, and told the Spawn to ask for her when she came back.
The Main Squeeze was coming by that evening, so Mrs. M and I made ourselves scarce, having dinner at an Italian place we had discovered the year before on the Spawn’s campus visit. Then it was back to the apartment for an early night before our trip home today.
We came home via Fayetteville, NC and Florence SC, and as I said, we got home late this afternoon. And now I’ll talk a little about what I’ve been putting off all the way through this post, just as we tried to put it off during the trip.
For 22 years less one semester, the Spawn has been a continual presence in her mom’s and my daily lives. And she will remain such, of course, but less frequently in a physical sense. Like Flitcraft in The Maltese Falcon, who adjusted to a world in which one could be killed by a random, falling beam, only to readjust to the world in which they no longer fell, Mrs. M and I adjusted to a world with this girl’s presence in it, and now that she will live and thrive at a greater distance, we have to adjust to that as well.
Sure enough, that’s why we raise them, and I’m not foolish enough to think that we’re the first or last to have to make this adjustment, but right now it’s our turn, and once again, the three of us are going to have to find a New Normal. This is no Big Noise, of course — this is a cause for celebration, and for reflection on how fantastically fortunate the three of us have been (and are) to have each other. But it’s still a change, and a big one for us, and I find myself thinking of the end of Paradise Lost:
Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
The world is all before my daughter, and I trust Providence to guide her, but I hope I may be forgiven those natural tears, as I leave the Eden of the baby, toddler, child, and teen where I’ve spent much of the last 22 years.
Upstairs on my refrigerator, there is a photo Mrs. M took on the last day of the Spawn’s kindergarten year in Muncie, a few weeks before we moved to South Carolina. The picture is of the Spawn waving at the camera, but entering the frame from the left, you can see my right hand holding her left as we walk together. It will be a challenge having to reach so far now.
Your mom and I love you, Em — and we’ll see you soon. Now go succeed.