By Shelley Murphy
Last week, I sat in the familiar lobby waiting for my annual appointment with my doctor whose practice includes obstetrics. I lingered a long time among the young pregnant women and couldn’t help overhearing their conversations.
I settled next to an expectant mom, her toddler daughter and her girlfriend. I listened to the pregnant mom complain to her girlfriend about a weekend trip to the park with her toddler.
“I’m still so upset, it kills me; the other kids all played together and they totally excluded her,” she said while embracing her toddler.
My first thought: buckle-up the ride gets a lot rougher. My next thought: envy. That mom still knows everything about her daughter’s day, and she tucks her child into bed at night under their shared roof.
I resisted the urge to warn the young mom that soon she’ll blink and find herself making a deposit on her daughter’s freshman dorm like the many parents of soon-to-be graduating high school seniors.
After parents and grads experience June’s excitement, enthusiasm and elation, they’ll endure August’s transition, turmoil and tears. As summer comes to a close, many parents move their college freshman into their dorm rooms and return home to face their new normal.
The Urban Dictionary defines new normal as: “The current state of being after some dramatic change has transpired. What replaces the expected, usual, typical state after an event occurs.”
When my older son left for college I didn’t welcome his departure and my own new normal. To cope I referred to college as camp—stories of my denial are legendary. Substituting “camp” for “college” lulled me into believing his absence was short-term, and I lived blissfully in denial until his freshman winter break.
His return in December reenergized our home and filled it with familiar chaos and countless friends. But the calendar is callous, and the day for him to return to his dorm came too soon. After packing up his car, my son jumped into it and said, “I’ll text when I get home.” Standing on the driveway I wobbled from the punch to my gut, caught my breath and then corrected him, “This is your home.”
But as he drove away, I stood stunned, realizing he was right, and the truth was we no longer lived together under the same shared roof and probably never would again.
Both my boys chose to attend the same in-state university and never seriously considered leaving California. So I never saw the curveball coming my way when my older son accepted a job in the Midwest and moved out of state, just two days after graduating from college.
This month marks one year since that “dramatic change.” To celebrate his milestone and my survival we’re taking a long overdue family vacation.
While our destination is the same as usual, our travel arrangements differ. All previous family vacations saw the four of us arriving and departing together, but not now in my new normal.
My older son cuts his vacation short and leaves three days early due to work responsibilities. His return trip includes a red-eye departing the Pacific island and a couple connecting flights to Tornado Alley. The itinerary sounds grueling, but the long flights will be easier on him than the short drive to the airport will be on me.
I’m determined not to dwell on his early departure and instead focus on family fun. Much has changed since our first trip to the island many years ago. I no longer look forward to the amazing activities and sandy souvenirs.
My favorite part of the vacation is our family sharing a dinner table at the end of the day. After returning home and unpacking, what I’ll remember most is our engaging conversations erupting in laughter at old inside jokes and creating new ones that will continue to connect us in the years to come.
Our family vacation may be fleeting, but for one week, all four of us will finally be together under one roof again.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.