Our first daughter, Jessica, had a fierce independent streak (as, in fact, do all of our children). She struck out on her own pretty early, renting her own apartment and working while going to school. Our middle daughter, Kristyn, followed a few years after, also wanting to live in her own apartment. Her younger brother, Justin, went with her. They lived together in their first apartment on the lower floor of an older home on Harris Street in Kent (Justin’s first cat, Harris, commemorates their first stop after leaving home).
After that, there was a succession of Kent and Stow, Ohio apartments for all of our children. They will always remember their first forays into independent living: Lake Street (an attic garret murderously hot in the summer), Park Street (with the odd layout and marauding squirrels in the walls and ceiling), West Main (with the drunken frat boys) and Ravenswood (with Noah’s flood in the parking lot during downpours). During the course of the last decade, they all left home and never returned for more than a few temporary weeks at a time.
Yet they were all nearby, close to home, just a short drive away or a quick walk around the block. They would stop by whenever they wanted to, opening the back door with their keys and shouting “Mom, Dad, where are you?” There were raids on our food pantry, expeditions to borrow this, that, and every other thing one could think of. Sometimes, there were impromptu earnest discussions in our family room about future plans and current problems, romantic, educational, and financial.
They were out of the house, but they were still here. Close by and within reach. They were independent, but still (sometimes) needing our advice, our experience, or, simply, our skills with cooking, plumbing and sundry repairs. And, of course, Mom and Dad, are the most indispensable resource of all when packing up and moving.
Kristyn, the middle child, was the first to move away from Kent, where she had lived since she was two. A couple of years ago she moved to Oxford, Ohio to attend graduate school at Miami University (Miami of Ohio to you Floridians!). We bought a modest A-frame on 3 acres near there as a summer house, and she and long-time partner Anthony lived there in the midst of the trees and leaves for a couple of years. They were four and a half hours away, but still, on Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or on our birthdays she would appear, a welcome smiling surprise, home for the special occasion. The best gift a Mom or Dad could desire. Her siblings were appropriately mum about her visit, which, most likely, they had helped her plan.
Greg understood all along that there would come a day when the family would change again, perhaps dramatically. Greg had left home for college in 1968 (moving to Arizona from Pittsburgh), and after a single summer home in Pittsburgh in 1969, never lived at home again. As an Army brat who lived in 21 places in 18 years, he understood well the impermanence of house and home. Joan, on the other hand, had lived in the same home for 15 years and left it permanently only when we got married. It was her concept of home we built upon and created for our children in our stately Colonial Revival on Prospect Street in Kent. It was her sense of stability and permanence that made that spacious house a home. Our children knew that. They know that.
A few weeks ago, on the 8th of August, we loaded a POD with the accumulated belongings that three twenty-somethings had accumulated during their apartment years (more than they thought, for sure). Then on August 10, Kristyn, Tony and Justin, the New Oregonians, loaded their cars with what remained, and gathered some good friends for a road trip. They drove away across country, taking the Northern route to the West, to their new homes in Oregon. Kristyn was to accept a doctoral fellowship at Oregon State University and Justin, well, as a software engineer who works from home, he went with her because he could. Because he was born with a wanderlust and could now finally indulge it.
When they drove off that Sunday morning, for Albany and Lebanon, we knew that something had changed, irrevocably, finally. The nuclear family, Joan, Greg, Jessica, Kristyn, and Justin, was no more. For a few years we were a wobbly little solar system with its center on Prospect Street. They were satellites, planets revolving around us, first near, then a bit further away. But, now, two of them have escaped the orbit entirely and gone off to (what seems to us) the Uttermost West. Only Jessica, the oldest, now also finally in her own home with her husband Patrick and no longer in apartments, remains nearby. Still, even she has recognized that when her siblings left for the Pacific Northwest something fundamental had shifted.
They, none of them, will ever come home again. Yes, there will still be visits, holidays home. Special occasions spent, all five of us together in a house well-remembered and well-loved. But this is our house now. Not their house. They have their own homes, with lawns to tend, flowers to grow, woodwork to mend, and blank walls to decorate with the trappings and mementos of their own lives. Their future opens up within another set of walls and under other roofs. They’ve left our embrace and flown the nest, up high and away, away, and away.