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Catch and Release


A fisherman stands in a boat on the water.

Recently, our oldest came home from his freshman year of college for fall break. I was like a fisherman doing catch-and-release. I picked him up from the airport, held onto him, admired him, and then, a short time later, let him go again.


It may come as no surprise that I had counted down the days from when we dropped him off at college to when he would be back for fall break: 64.


He, however, had expressed no need to come home over those two months. I’d ask if he was homesick, and he’d say he was too busy to be homesick. How is a mother to react to that? Simultaneously happy that her kid is thriving in his new place and a bit sad that he didn’t miss home more.


But on the day he was to travel, he finally texted: “Excited to come home.”


I arrived at the airport just as the plane touched down, but they had to taxi a while to get to a gate, so I circled the airport again and again. Each time I came to the pick-up area, I slowed to a crawl, searching each face for my son’s. Where is he? Where is he? Where is he? I was the fisherman in his anchored boat going nowhere, waiting for my catch to come to me.


Finally, his text came through: “at Door 5.”


I pulled up to the pick-up area where only even numbers were listed. “There is no door 5!” I texted back.


Apparently the odd-number doors are on the ride share/taxi/limo side of Arrivals. I texted him to come to the other side. He was so close. I nearly had him in my hands.


I saw the sliding doors open, and there he was. I jumped out of the car and met him on the sidewalk. He hugged me longer than usual. After all, we had some hugs to catch up on.


As I drove him home from the airport, I learned more in that 45-minute drive than we usually did in our weekly calls, when he mostly shared basic information about his week. In person, it was just like it had been when he was home, him telling stories about fellow students and teachers, random tidbits that might not count as news but were more like the “color” reporters add to their stories—descriptions and details to make it come alive.


Before this visit, I’d never realized the beauty of fall break: a random set of days in October that are otherwise unscheduled. Truly restful for him and blessedly peaceful for us. Four unscheduled days feels like many more.


All weekend, I luxuriated in his total availability. At school, I have to always consider when he might be available to text or talk: he’s in a different time zone and living the very busy schedule of a “conservie” (students in the Conservatory of Music). At home, he just sat on the couch with us idly, in no rush to go anywhere. We discussed everything from the state of the dorm bathroom (very nice, though the shower water tended to get out from the curtain and get his waiting clothes wet) and laundry room (not bad, though socks had disappeared), to whether he wanted to stay a music major or whether he should switch to the more practical chemistry major.


We played board games in the evening, and during the day, he and my husband picked back up where they’d left off in Tears of the Kingdom. For old time’s sake, the three brothers and my husband played Super Mario Bros, which the four of them had played through nearly 10 years ago.


While we visited, I pulled out all his favorite snacks that I’d bought at Trader Joe’s weeks before in anticipation of his arrival: honey roasted peanuts, dried mango strips, and big, fat corn chips. I made the dinners he’d often requested when he was home. We shifted our seats around the table now that there were five of us again, and while we ate, he told us about the food at college.


“There’s one station that’s like ‘home cooking,’” he said.


“You mean like comfort food?” I asked.


“No, like healthy food. It always has the shortest line. It reminds me of home.”


I don’t think that was a compliment.


I baked cookies, though we learned that he gets more than his fill of sweets at school.


“There’s dessert at every meal,” he said. “Donuts, cookies, cake, pies. Usually I try to sample them all.” (Maybe the sweets consumption will even out after he’s been there a while.)


Once again, our house was full of the sounds of his piano. In the mornings, I heard again the distinct sound his bedroom door makes when he opens it. Over four days, his bedroom floor went from empty to full of dirty clothes and papers. “Ah, really feels like you’re home,” I told him.


On Sunday, we gave him the honor of choosing Forced Family Fun and he selected the board game “The Wonderful World of Wooly Wumps 2,” which had been designed by our youngest and his friend. It was as maddening as ever, and I found myself wumped as usual, while he delighted in it. Nothing had changed.


His visit was exactly as I’d hoped it would be. He was ours again, ours to behold, ours to enjoy, if for only a short time, still a satisfying one. This catch-and-release will be the way we slowly let go of him, a coming-and-going until the day when he hits the water and keeps going, making his home somewhere across the waves. I’m grateful for the easing into it; letting go takes some getting used to.


Photo by jplenio on pixabay.

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