Drawing by Charlotte Dijkgraaf

Drawing by Charlotte Dijkgraaf

During the pandemic, our younger son graduated from college and started his first job. But instead of moving to the city and taking a daily elevator ride to his workplace, he stayed home and climbed the stairs to his teenage bedroom where he had set up his office.

There, among the souvenirs of his high school soccer team, the framed picture of his prom — standing in a rented tux next to an equally awkward-looking girl — and the one surviving toy dinosaur of his childhood collection, he sat behind a computer screen with views of his boyhood bed and copies of “Charlotte’s Web” and AP History on his nightstand.

Every morning, I tried to seize the opportunity in front of me. “Did you sleep well, dear? You had breakfast already? I just toasted a bagel. Want some coffee? I made a whole pot.”

There were other questions on the tip of my tongue. “Nice haircut! Sharp sweatpants! By the way, I saw a pretty girl in the driveway last night.”

Of course, I would not say such things, but he knew I could have said them, and I admit, I sometimes accidently forgot to shut up. Awww … Kids at his age are entitled to their own life, their privacy, and their secrets.

So, for almost a year, we were living together apart. I tried not to ask too many questions. I did not assume he would have dinner with us. I gave him the space he craved and needed.

When my children were much younger, I sometimes burst into tears realizing that one day they would not be permanently around me anymore. They would live in their own houses, maybe even in another city, or, intolerable thought, another continent. We would depend on a telephone call, hoping they would have time for us.

Now I realize children need to leave the nest when they are ready. Adolescents are grown-ups, just not set in their ways yet. They need to carve out their own groove. They need space to figure things out. And they need private space to hide things, including their emotions.

Last week, our son moved out. We helped him pack up his belongings and stack them in the U-Haul he had rented. The pretty girl stood at his side. They looked intensely happy.

Later, I sat in his room and picked up the T-Rex toy. Memories came flooding back of the 22 years we had shared. I felt privileged to be his mother.

But instead of feeling sad, as I had feared I would, I felt a deep sense of pride. Our son is in charge of his own life and accepts it eagerly. He has figured out his own way. And I do not need to know everything.

We have done our task. We don’t have to walk in front of him anymore to clear the path. We stand proudly behind him. It is up to him now.

This is the moment we strived for when we raised him. Letting go is our reward.

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at pdejong@ias.edu.