Drinking Camp, Here I Come

Tis the season that the young adults head back to formal education or as I call it “drinking-camp.”

Despite the fact I still had two cubs at home, I wept ad nauseam when our eldest attended University. I cried less once our middle son attended and with our daughter, I already had a cargo van booked in May for September 1st. I’ll miss her, but the distance is healthy. Gratitude has space to grow, independence is nurtured and resilience blossoms. It’s about roots and wings. University is when the caterpillar turns into a drunken butterfly.

Our kids taught us a lot as they ventured into formal education. Principally, what I thought to be good for them needed to be determined by them not me. It was the official graduation from our embrace into the cradle of life. They did us proud, and intuitively I knew it was best that I operate on a need to know basis concerning their University experiences. I didn’t need to know.

Our eldest attended one of the wildest residences in North America. Playboy wrote about it. That’s never good. Affectionately called ‘The Zoo.’ Saugeen-Maitland, as it’s formerly known earned its reputation from the wild parties and Animal House behaviour that transpired. It was a good fit for him. When I look back, my sobbing wasn’t only because I was going to miss him, but the shit hole he chose to pursue higher education within despite the other choices that existed. The University was fine, but the residence was worse than awful.

Second-year found him paying exorbitant student rent to live in a house with his buddies. A home that only Linda Blair could love. I wept again. He arrived that year with a truck filled with a sectional that seated ten as well as a slew of other tangible furnishings from a fridge to shelving. Four years later, all he had was a knapsack and a coffee in hand. Assuring us that the other goods were either damaged, lost, or had so much DNA on it he did us a favour. I doubt their washer-dryer saw the same action the rest of the house did. I was thankful he was standing, and I wasn’t in possession of any fabrics like sheets, towels or placemats that would crack to the touch. His final year was spent living with six girls who treated him like a brother. Their home had a dining cabinet as well as a large ledge that ran the parameter of the space. It was filled with dozens of 40 ounces of empty vodka bottles instead of Royal Albert china that would typically be adorning such an area. Theirs was filled with more bottles then a cruise ship leaving the dock.

Our middle son followed his older brothers footsteps. Electing to live in a domicile that was unequivocally a shit hole and costing a king’s ransom. Off of its foundation, a tarp was used to stop any inclement weather from entering the home. Rain defied that nimble attempt, and it was no contest for when a blizzard blew into town. The raccoons and squirrels laughed hysterically. I wept. His final year found him in an apartment designed by an architect that worked on laying out prisons. The rooms were side by each with a small shared kitchen and living room. With only a few inches of floor space, the bulk of his real estate was covered with more beer and vodka bottles then a fully stocked LCBO at Christmas. So many empties in fact, that he collected $250 when he returned them to the beer store and that was only two weeks worth. Where they found the time to study and how they still had a liver I’ll never know, but I had our sons, on separate occasions, submit their transcripts to me to ensure they did attend class. Our eldest sent me a photo of his graduating certificate, as he skipped out on his graduation. This warden was satisfied. I did, however, corner our middle son when it was his turn to graduate insisting I wanted to see a show for the funds that we laid out for his formal education. He happily obliged. The ceremony was long, hot and ended with rancid coffee and cupcakes infused with so much sugar it was like biting into gravel.

I was pleased to experience that they had become masterful at questioning authority, traditions and standards throughout their time in University.  The kids were raised to be critical thinkers. A valuable skill especially when the intention behind it was based on equitability, transparency and integrity. Skills that weren’t acquired through higher learning but rather, through their formative years. They did well in their post-education years. I’m sure they could have found grounds to sue their respective Universities and would have won their tuition back had they been motivated to do so. But, like a dropped mic, once completed they were “outta’ here.”

While the adult kids are expanding between the walls of higher learning, it’s also a time of expansion for the empty nester. A time to rediscover themselves and to experience falling in love and rediscovering their life partner all over again.

My husband and I finally had the opportunity to pursue things that we were genuinely interested in. Bringing play back into our lives is essential at our age. We started eating in Paris time as well as slowly distancing ourselves from routine. Except for our work calendar, we threw our entire schedule out the window to make room for one that had flexibility for us and satisfied the things we wanted to pursue like working out and pursuing courses for ourselves. Undertaking things that pleased us became cumulative in our happiness.

When our youngest attended University, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves so we started by watching the entire series of ‘Game of Thrones.’ It was thrilling. We felt like kids staying up late, eating popcorn and binge watching. Something that was foreign to us after decades of military-style routines. Forty-five days of empty nesting and just as we came up for air our doorbell rang. It was one of our kids temporarily moving back home. Already ingrained on our new path, as was he, things continued in this new incarnation. Our home is nothing if it can’t serve as a safe place for our offspring to land, collect themselves and then relaunch. It didn’t serve as a disruption whatsoever, in fact, it sealed the transcendence that we were all going through. He was respectful of how we shifted, and that gave him room to do the same. We continued to move forward with our new approach as adults without all the years of preexisting commitments. Our home has since turned into a hotel with us all coming and going. We are ripe for a concierge.

Times are radically different today from when I was growing up. Back in the seventies, my entire group of friends moved out at age 18 never to return. The variables then seemed to be more accommodating then they are today allowing for that to transpire. It wasn’t easier back then, but it was more doable.

This is an exciting chapter. For those walking through it for the first time, there are tears when the kids first move out, but that just reminds you of all of the new experiences you haven’t yet walked through, and that’s thrilling. I learned to be extra kind to myself and to administer a hefty dose of tender loving care. After looking after everyone around me, it is my time to look after me. Our kids get that and are demonstrating that in their own lives. I couldn’t be more delighted. I learned to be self’is,’  a loving, introspective way of looking after my happiness.

When kids go to university for the first time, it’s sweet for everyone. You appreciate and miss them as they do you. When they come home, it’s with a new lens. They have no bile to dodge as they walk through the house while a fresh bed awaits them. Not to mention a good ole’ home-cooked meal. Most importantly, is their realization that their mother’s cool factor registers higher than they ever gave her credit for. All beautiful things stemming from the contrast of the experience.

For the mothers going through this for the first time be with it and walk through it. You’ll be fine. You’ll only need one small box of tissue, and you won’t even finish it. Once you’re through weeping a new chapter will be waiting for you. It’s a time to crank up the music, dance like no ones looking, and reintroduce fun into your life. Explore what turns you on and give yourself permission to go for it. Pursue the things that eluded you and start enjoying your life. It’s as much your time as it is your kids.

And distance yourself from the fact that while you’re at home adjusting your new compass, your kid will be at drinking camp shouting “Toga!”

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