by Danielle Tomich
“Mama, hold ‘mine’ hand.” (We never did figure out where he got that —“mine” instead of “my”— maybe it was a foreshadowing of our feeble attempts to speak Dutch.) But as a child, our son Nick asked this often, and I was always happy to hold his soft, dimpled hand. Now 21 and over six feet tall, he takes my hand in his big one as we sit in the backseat of an Uber, speeding to the airport. I try to remember the last time he wanted to hold my hand, and the tears flow even faster. Now we both need a hand to hold. Neither of us wants to say goodbye.
Nick is returning to the U.S. to start his senior year in college. He just spent his fourth — and final — summer with us in Amsterdam. This goodbye is especially painful because it’s the end of several eras, none of which we want to end: the last of his carefree student summers, our last summer in Europe, and indeed the last months of our time living here. I don’t want to say goodbye to any of this, and especially not to him.
Time insists on marching on, but today I wished for it to freeze — like I have so many times before. Every goodbye, every transition with our children has been heart-wrenching for me. Luckily for us, and in spite of my reluctance to let go, each new era has been as good (or better) than the last. But I cannot bank on that. I know that there are no guarantees in life. It’s scary and sad to let go of this very happy time in our lives.
I am grieving the loss of our son’s everyday presence and the end of his childhood. And yet I look to the future with hope. I miss that little boy, but I love the young man he is now. I even get to hold his hand now, it seems, on very special occasions. I will miss those sweet, slow summers with him (and our daughter, too), but I am excited for him to start his adult life. I look forward to seeing what our new experiences together will be.
Shakespeare said it best: Parting is such sweet sorrow. The memories we made this summer make it hard to say goodbye, but the sweetness we shared is worth the sorrow I feel now. Bittersweet.
My favorite memories don’t involve the museums, churches, or vistas that we’ve seen together. The best memories are of times at home in Amsterdam. Hanging out on our rooftop, listening to music for hours, challenging each other to “name that tune” and talking about the memories the music brings up. Making dinner together, Nick teaching us as much as we taught him. Walking along the endless canals, talking about nothing in particular, trying to absorb it all. Enjoying his pleasure in living in this beautiful, historical place. Mostly, I remember the easy feeling of being with him.
That’s what I need to remember now: that I love being with him no matter where we are and no matter what our circumstances. The eras will change, but we will essentially be the same people. When we meet again for Christmas in Seattle, after we move to Boston, and wherever any of us go after that, we will still be the same family.
And, as my friends ahead of me in the parenting journey have intimated, he may be back under our roof sooner than I expect. That, too, will be bittersweet. For now, I continue to search for — and savor — the sweet and tolerate the sorrow. I know Nick and I will always be close, and that’s the sweetest taste of all.
Even so, I could use a bit of dark chocolate about now. And a hand to hold.