Remember the song “Chain of Fools”? Here’s a shout-out for Dad: When I was about 4, I thought the words were “Change, change, change!” instead of “chain, chain, chain.” Until somebody corrected me, I frequently danced around the house singing “change change change;” Dad danced with me, but I’m fairly sure he got the lyrics right. I must have been pretty darn adorable.
While I’m giving shout-outs, here’s one for Mom. My sister was always tall for her age, so I’d frequently ask Mom if I was tall or short for my age. “You’re average, honey,” she’d tell me, “just perfect for your age.” Then one bleak, overcast day when I asked her yet again, she said, “Corinne, you’re short, you’ve always been short, and you’ll always be short.”
Change (change change) is the bittersweet subject of this entry.
Childhood is sweet suspension, with comforting constants of parents and grandparents and teddy bears and traditions. The biggest changes are going to a new school or rearranging your bedroom, or, at the very biggest, moving. But still the constants remain, parents and grandparents and teddy bears and traditions.
When you go off to college, your life becomes almost constant change. I’d venture to say everything will keep changing until you’re retired, or dead. When you were little, things changed around you, and in the constancy of the best things you were oblivious. Suddenly, you’re an “adult” and innocent oblivion is no longer an option. You may be at the same college for a few years, but what about after that? And after that? The old adage is true, you can’t go home again. Sure, you can try. Freshman year I tried, and there was my room, a little cleaner than I had left it because Mom views the order of her household more important than my knowing where everything is (and I respect that), but still my room with my bed and my desk and my towering bookshelves. Dad still came home around 7 PM, Mom was still a good cook, the cat was still a presumptuous spaz, the backyard was still woody and inviting, Eileen and I still watched Nick at Nite until midnight or later. At Thanksgiving, we had turkey and shrimp and pumpkin pie. At Christmas, we had chili and French bread casserole and we went to church and we hopped from Grandparents’ to Grandparents’. Everything was not the same, though. Mom got a fake tree at Christmas, and there was nothing we could do about it (except grumble and groan, which college students are very good at).
Maybe that example is a little melodramatic, but times were a-changin. This may sound backwards, but as children, we some sort of say in things around the house; as college students, we were almost guests. Our empty-nester parents were moving on, doing things the way they couldn’t when they had kids.
Come summer. Eileen moved to Denmark, Dad got a job in D.C., two grandparents were trying to sell the house that I practically grew up in, one grandparent was in the hospital.
Now, the house in Georgia with the wooded backyard sits full of furniture and empty of people, waiting to be returned to or sold. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be minus a sister and minus a grandmother, celebrated in a 12th floor apartment in D.C. Will there be a tree? Will there be late-night church? All I can say is, at least there will be a holographic fire to hang our stockings over.
I will spend two weeks this Christmas as a guest in my parents’ apartment. I will spend two weeks in Georgia, trying to see all the other people I love whose lives are changing as well; I’ll spend two weeks in Europe with my sister, feeling sophisticated and likely confused. In the summer, I’ll probably be a guest in D.C. again. If I’m lucky (and diligent), I’ll get to work as an intern in the field I might like to be in. No more hellacious retail summer jobs, please. It’s time to start my life in the direction I think it might maybe possibly take. As for the following year and holidays, who knows? Maybe more of D.C., maybe back to Georgia; but never back to the past. In less than a few years, I’ll have to be “on my own.” Me, on my own? An “adult”? Preposterous! Where will I live? What will I do? Who will be the closest people in my life?
Parents and grandparents and traditions will change; at least I still have my teddy bear.