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It Took My Son Leaving House for Him to Lastly 'Get It'

January 18, 2024
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I stood in my son’s new college apartment and eyed his boxes and piles of clothing dubiously.

“Should we hit the grocery store before we leave? Maybe I could help you unpack your kitchen a little bit?” I asked, fully expecting him to take me up on my offer.

“Nah, I got it, Mah. You guys have a long drive,” he said with a smile. 

I took a last look at the mess in his tiny apartment and hugged him tightly. I tried not to let him see my tears spill over as we walked down the hall to the elevator.

My little boy, it seemed, no longer needed my help.

“I got it, Mah.”

I’ve heard this phrase dozens of times over the years. I’ve lost count of the times I’d hear him groan those four words after I’d hound him about his college applications or finally emptying the dishwasher.

It seems like my little boy no longer needs me. (Photo credit: Christine Burke)

“I got it, Mah,” is one of my son’s favorite retorts

He’d utter, “I got it, Mah,” usually with an eye roll when I’d lose my temper over the state of his bedroom or when I’d remind him to pick his sister up from track practice. 

Spoiler alert: Most times, he did not, in fact, “got it.”

Flash forward a few years to his first college apartment. He was living alone in a large city for the first time, and I found myself crying as we navigated the city streets, leaving him and his grocery list behind.

Was he really prepared to cook for himself?

What if he got sick, living alone?

Did I impart the importance of Clorox wipes upon him?

I stared out the car window and wondered if I’d done enough.

The answer was yes. And most certainly, no.

My son detailed his first trip to the grocery

Shortly after we arrived home that evening, my son called and detailed his first solo trip to the grocery store. His odyssey involved a train ride, a poorly planned list, and far fewer hands to carry the way too many reusable bags he had to purchase to haul his wares home. I stifled a laugh as he recounted his long trip home, complete with a missed train stop and a steep hill while brandishing melting ice cream and an ill-thought bag of flour.

“But I bought chicken that was on sale, and I remembered to buy fruit for breakfast,” he said proudly.

There was hope for him yet.

Over the next few months, he would video call me as he cooked. At first, his calls were out of necessity: 

How do I make those roasted potatoes again? 

How can I tell if this chicken is cooked through? 

What’s the secret to your scrambled eggs? 

With each call, I’d cook our dinner as he stumbled through his cooking, and we’d chat about his college life. It was my favorite part of the day.

Eventually, as his skills improved, his emergency calls waned. Instead, I’d receive a text of a neatly set place setting with a steaming stir fry or other concoction he’d cobbled together.

My eyes would tear up as I noticed that his place setting was much like the ones I painstakingly set every night when he was a child.

Maybe my son was getting the hang of adulting

For all of the nights I wondered how a kid who could barely find the laundry basket would have clean underwear as an adult, I started to see that, maybe, just maybe, he was getting the hang of adulting.

“I got it, Mah” took on a whole new meaning for me in those months.

He had come a long way since that first call in his dorm room, asking me to walk him through how to use a coin-op machine. Now, he was calling to debate whether fabric softener was better than dryer sheets. 

On his trip home for Thanksgiving break, I noticed I no longer had to chide him about emptying the dishwasher.

“It sucks to wake up to a dirty sink,” he said with a shrug. We cleaned the kitchen in amiable silence that night, me marveling at how much he’d grown up. 

After we sent our last Thanksgiving guest home, he sheepishly thanked me for a wonderful day. He told me that it was mentally exhausting to plan meals for himself week after week. 

“You make it look effortless, Mah. I don’t know how you did it, feeding us like that year after year,” he said. “I appreciate you.”

Oh, my stars.

“I got it, Mah.” 

Yes, son. You sure did. 

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