Sometimes the next chapters aren’t yours to write

Writer’s fall in love with their characters. It’s just a fact. But sometimes the rest of the story isn’t yours to write– especially when it’s the true, ever-unfolding story of your children.

When it comes to books I’m a sucker for a good title, but it’s the opening lines that determine whether I’ll delve into the depths of the story.

There’s something satisfying about cracking open a book when the first few chapters are so engrossing and engaging that you know you’re in for a good read.

I’m to the midway point of writing my second book, so my thinking is fogged by pages, outlines, indexes and introductions.

Perhaps that’s why when a new friend commented that it must be hard having my two oldest sons gone from the nest and completely independent, a book metaphor immediately sprung to mind.

“Not really,” I said. “I’m blessed to have been able to write their introduction and the first few chapters, the rest of their stories are their own to tell.”

Those words have stayed with me as I watched two close friends send sons off to college recently.

It’s been eight years since my firstborn flew the coop, and it wasn’t an easy transition for any of us. But he was home so often to do laundry or eat dinner that aside from his empty room it was hard to tell he’d really gone. Our youngest quickly moved into the empty room, delighted to no longer have to bunk with a brother. Plus we got a cat, so there were still five living things for me to take care of.

Six years ago our second son moved out. Again, it wasn’t far and again there were laundry visits and family dinners and yes, another cat. Then Alex moved to Houston. No more popping in for food. An empty place at the table on Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And his birthday.

Happy that he was flourishing in his new place, I encouraged and applauded from afar, but the first time he admitted to being homesick, I hung up the phone, went to my room, shut my door and wept.

My tears were not only for his loneliness and for the ache in my heart from missing him, but also because I knew his homesickness was probably temporary. And it was.

Now our third son is preparing to move to Nashville this spring to pursue his dream of a music career. I try not to think about it too much, but my husband has already vetoed any additional cats.

I’ve done some reading and I looked at a map. There are 2,112.82 car miles between Spokane and Nashville. I’m pretty sure Zach won’t be coming home to do laundry or eat dinner.

Number two son is also on the move again. Next month he’ll move from Houston to Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is where his girlfriend is from. She’s the one who eased his homesickness. I haven’t met her in person yet, but I already love her because Alex is so happy.

At first I was excited. I’m geographically challenged and assumed Columbus would be closer to Spokane than Houston. Columbus is 2,117.27 miles by car from Spokane.

It’s not any closer.

If I was the author of my sons’ stories, I would write them successful careers and happy relationships here in Spokane, with homes just a few miles away – not quite within walking distance.

I didn’t lie when I said it wasn’t hard to see them living independent lives. After all, the goal of parenting is to release competent contributors into the world, not to keep them dependent on their parents.

I’m truly thrilled when my sons embrace new opportunities. But perhaps I should have added that sometimes I struggle with wanting to take out my red pen and edit certain parts of their stories, and occasionally I long to rewrite entire sections.

Yet, I’ve relinquished creative control of these characters I helped create. They’re writing the storyline now, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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My sons. My heart. 2008.

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