Something about my activity this last week feels very familiar. I walk into a neat, clean, welcoming room; a room that looks absolutely perfect but for the absence of its owner. I wander in and out of it from day to day, puffing up a pillow there, smoothing out an already smooth bedcover there. The pictures are in place, the curtains hang neatly, and the little touches that make it unique remain intact from day to day.
I know what this feels like. The last time I spent this much time looking around a child’s room, just taking it in, was during the last stages of my pregnancies. I remember sitting in a rocking chair, anticipating who would eventually live in that room, first cradled in my arms as we both swayed in that glider rocker, day after day, night after night. I remember how much I loved creating that baby space, anticipating my newborn. I’d change diapers, nurse babies, dress children and read books in those nursery and boyhood rooms. I’d eventually watch each of my sons climb out of my lap, literally and figuratively, and walk out the door.
So here I am, some eighteen years later, having witnessed three little boys who are not so little anymore leave their rooms behind. All three are enthusiastically making new homes for themselves in a college apartment or a dorm room this fall. Only the glider rocker remains from all those years ago, but its former occupants are otherwise occupied. Well, not me, not really. I suppose I could take a seat as I survey the room, but I don’t.
The primary-colored plastic toys and stuffed animals are long gone. The X-men, Power Rangers, Street Sharks, Pokemon, Gargoyles, Disney characters and Star Wars vehicles are also either long gone or packed far, far away. Over these last few days, each of the boys’ rooms has taken on the undeniably attractive look of a crisp, clean, perfectly organized space. There is not even one cash machine receipt crumbled up on a desk, not one soggy towel draped on the floor, not one food wrapper or empty snack bag to be found. After housing years and years of living and laughs, years of sadness and tears, shouts and whispers, hugs and kisses, slammed doors and raucous debate, the rooms are strangely and unnaturally quiet. Each room has survived nicely, still standing after the challenges and missteps that define childhood. I can only hope the same is true of their owners.
I realize not every mother (or father) does this kind of nightly stroll down memory lane in what are now unoccupied bedrooms at home. It sounds sort of pathetic and I can’t really explain it other than to say it makes me feel closer to my boys somehow. Just standing in each room, looking around, quietly tells me each of their stories one more time. Sure, the rooms look more pristine than they have in more than a decade but the stories remain.
Now I spend some time anticipating my sons in a new way; imagining who and what they will be, this time as adults, not as my children. The rooms have their past; I’m not sure how much of their future they’ll hold. Yes, the school breaks, the vacations, sure; the next several years – maybe more than that - will find us with at least part time occupants in those rooms again.
Like the toys and games, our days of sitting in the glider rocker together are also long gone. What I hope remains, lingering in some way in those rooms and beyond those walls within each of us, is the familiar, comfortable feeling of home, of connection, of love.