He’s Leaving Home: A Love Letter

Empty Nest

I don’t talk about them a lot here, but we do have two children besides Tim.  Our oldest, “Sandy,” is 20 years old.  He’s our biological child and, for better or for worse, is a chip off the old blocks.  Both of us.  He’s got the tall, lanky body and strong chin of Tom and my blue eyes and “strike before I think” sarcasm.  Our youngest, “Di,” is 16, adopted at age 4, and has overcome a lot of obstacles of her own to become a pensive, complex and sensitive young woman.  I don’t talk about them much on my blog for a couple of reasons.  First, they have not consented to my blogging about their lives except where they intersect with what’s going on with Tim (Tim does know and approve of my blogging), and second, the blog is my digital diary of the journey through raising a child with a severe mental illness, which neither of them (thankfully) have.  But today, I have to write about Sandy, as today, I am both overflowing with pride, and nursing a breaking heart.

Sandy has always been a trip.  He was born after nearly 18 hours of labor that literally killed me (for less than a minute) after which he opened his eyes and began cooing just minutes after the obligatory first breath and cry.  He babbled and squirmed and seemed hyper aware of everyone and everything around him nearly non-stop from that moment on, drinking in and processing his entire environment, while seemingly to simultaneously provide commentary on it.  We never talked to him like he was a baby.  People would stare at me with screwed up expressions on their faces as I pushed him in a cart through the grocery store, just months old, asking him what we should buy for dinner, or if he preferred canned tomatoes with or without oregano.  He did everything early – said his first word at seven months, walked at ten, rode a two-wheeler without training wheels at five.  He was friendly, sociable, talkative, and engaging then, and he remains so to this day.

Sandy is nearly four years older than Tim so when Tim’s symptoms became prominent and his diagnosis started to become more obvious, Sandy was in middle school.  It had to be hard on him.  We spent all our time on Tim – monitoring his moods and meds, attending IEP meetings, shuttling him to and from therapy, to and from hospitals, and between Tom and I so he never spent a moment alone.  This continued into Sandy’s high school years.  We missed every football game  where he performed with the marching band.  We missed all of his track meets.  We missed weeks over summers when we sent him to his grandparent’s to both give him a break from the chaos at home and, frankly, relieve the guilt of another week of summer where he sat around while we dealt with what was going on with Tim.  The two summers before Tim went into residential treatment, when it was really bad at home, he lived with my parents the entire summer by his own choice, leaving us and his friends behind for a summer job in another state and some peace and quiet.

Yet, through all this, Sandy is a loving and supportive big brother to Tim.  He drives the 90 miles alone to take Tim to dinner every so often.  He walks with us and fundraises with us for NAMIWalks.  He explains his brother’s condition to friends and their parents, and includes his brother when he goes to the video game store, movies, or hangs with friends when Tim is home on a visit.  He never once uttered any anger or disappointment that he has every right to feel about how much he sacrificed of his childhood .When Sandy graduated from high school in 2009, no one was prouder to be there to see it than Tim.

Sandy has spent the last two years in school working an A.A. in Hospitality Management – going to school full time while also holding down a 35 hour a week job and maintaining a relationship with a very nice young woman.  About a year ago, a cousin of mine, knowing he is looking to become a pastry chef after his current studies, found an opportunity for him to intern at a year at a bakery in her hometown, which happens to be Stuttgart, Germany.  It’s an amazing experience that there’s no way we couldn’t encourage him to take.  He  debated for a few months, but in the end, realized it was something he couldn’t pass up.  He leaves in nine days.

I knew this day would come.  I knew that one day he’d grow up, find his path and blaze it on his own, leaving  us behind.  That’s as it should be.  And I couldn’t be happier for him.  It’s hard for me to convey this to him, though, when I tear up every time I look at him these past few days.  I know we’ve done our jobs the best we could, and that we should be pleased and proud that he has turned into the man that he is, and feel a sense of self-satisfaction that he’s going off to make his own way, confident that he will be successful.  And I have friends that have expressed how hard it is when their children leave and go away to school or jobs in different cities and states, and how painful the separation is, at first. On the days when I’m feeling sorry for myself I tell myself this is different.  He’s not just leaving home, or Chicago, or Illinois, he’s leaving the country.  He’s moving to another continent.  And while I’m comforted by the fact that he will be near family, and that he’ll be doing something he loves during an experience that doesn’t come around in every lifetime, I’m despondent.  One of the great loves of my life is leaving me.

Sandy, I love you more than the air I breathe.  And I’m prouder of you than any one human being can be of another. And I’m ecstatic that you have this opportunity to do what you love.  And I’m going to miss you, desperately.  Keep your laptop charged.   There’s gonna be a lot of Skyping.

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