I began to feel it on the first day of school, but it wasn’t complete and so I was unsettled all week. Saturday, late, after I dropped Kiki at college, after I came home, after I spent several hours working on the nearly complete Massively Parallel, after everyone went to bed and I stood in the kitchen alone, that was when it all clicked and settled. Life mode shift is complete. We’re back to school mornings, three kids at home, one who communicates by computer, and working while the kids are out of the house.
This summer felt like a gift. Kiki came home and made family life and work life easier in a dozen ways. We had three adults in the house and that simplified many things. The kids were happy to relax and take things easy for the summer. More than once I found all four kids playing a game or watching a show together. It made me glad. I stored up that gladness, because in the next year life will change again. I suspect many of the changes will be good ones, but they may take Kiki elsewhere next summer. Or perhaps she’ll come live with us again. We might have another summer that feels like a gift. But it will be a different gift than the one we just completed.
Our cat brought a live mouse into the house Friday night. We were sitting and visiting with a friend in our front room when we heard a noise at the door. I opened it and the cat darted in before my brain had the chance to process that she had something in her mouth. She took it under Kiki’s chair and let it go. We all jumped up. There was chaos because the room was full of Kiki’s stuff, all packed to go to college the next day. The mouse ran under the piano and escaped. Our cat has brought us live gifts on three or four occasions. The most memorable of those occasions was the day that Kiki left for college last year. She brought Kiki a mouse as we were packing the car. I’m not sure what it is about packing up Kiki’s stuff that makes the cat think gifts are in order. I expect that in the weeks to come the cat will follow me around more. She misses Kiki when Kiki is away.
On Saturday afternoon I trailed through the grocery store after Kiki and two of her roommates. Having a full kitchen is new and Kiki is excited to be cooking for herself. My head was full of advice: buy this, that’s a waste, stock up on this. I bit my tongue and said very little of it. Kiki has a lot to learn about shopping and cooking, but she’ll learn it best if I get out of her way. What she needed was to go through the store with her roommates and have conversations with them about food. They’re all learning together. I watched Kiki with her friends both at the store and then back at her apartment. I realized that I was superfluous. Last year I helped her unpack her room, we went together on half a dozen errands, and then I finally departed. This year I could have dropped her on the curb, but having my car to transport groceries was appreciated.
I sat by myself in the women’s meeting at church. All summer Kiki has occupied the chair next to me, and today it was empty. I felt that emptiness and I hoped that she was having a pleasant time with her new ward full of college students. I remember that when Kiki first graduated and joined me in the adult meeting it felt a little bit like an intrusion. I was glad to have her there, but I also felt one of my children impinging on time that was usually child-free. When she came home for the summer I didn’t feel that at all. I was just glad to sit with her, another grown-up who I like joining me in a grown up space. She’ll sit with me again when she comes home for the holidays. I look forward to that.
I am profoundly grateful for the feeling that all is as it should be. Last year when I dropped off Kiki I had nearly a week of high anxiety while my brain recalibrated to her being gone. The three younger kids all went through grief at her absence in various ways. This year we miss her, but we are not grieving and that is much nicer.