No, I'm not referring to an economic downturn, though there are aspects of that to this story. This is about a family of seven that is becoming a family of four.
One year ago our family consisted of my wife and me, our two boys and our three dogs. In the past year, we lost two of our dogs, and our older son will be going away to college–out-of-state–in the fall.
The dogs died of natural causes after long, loving and pampered lives. Their deaths were sad but part of life. Our son's acceptance to The Berklee College of Music was a blessing in that it was his only college application. He was single-minded in wanting to either study music there or go to a local community college and apply again. His academics were average and he didn't even take any college entrance exams. His acceptance to Berklee was solely based on his audition and interview.
Frankly, I was surprised he was accepted, though I've always thought his talent was obvious. Maybe I was just not getting my hopes or expectations up, but I was stunned that he was not only accepted but was accepted via early admission, an even more rigorous screening process. He easily could have been wait-listed and included in the whole pool of applicants that don't find out if they've been accepted until March.
He made the first cut with only another hundred or so early acceptance freshmen. I was thrilled for him. Then I was a bit freaked out for me, since the cost of attending this particular institution is quite high. That is a small part of the downsizing referenced in this column's title. We can afford his tuition and expenses with some adjustment to our lifestyle, but I'm more concerned about the changing family dynamic that his exodus will precipitate.
There's no doubt that the energy in our home is changing. Just the hair level alone–on our floors–has already been severely reduced by the loss of two of our dogs. Now, the noise level will diminish significantly without my college-bound son's regular drum practices. Quiet. What is that?
Every family faces such changes. Every parent knows if they've done their jobs well their children should be leaving. We are just facing the same changes other families face though it feels to me that it is happening too quickly. While I strongly advocate that parents should be their kid’s best parent rather than their best friend, my first-born is especially close to me and having him leave will be emotionally wrenching, without a doubt.
There's another reality that I am facing that is different from my wife. I explored this concept in a previous column–A Dirty Little Parenting Secret–which is about the reality that parents have different connections with each child. I am close with both my boys but there's a special bond between my first-born and me, as stated above. Equally, my wife has a closer connection with our younger son.
So, I'm facing being figuratively locked out! Not really, but my wife and younger son have those things they do alone together in the same way I have them with our older son. Where will I fit in once my older son is gone? Well, at least I’ll still have Simon, our last surviving dog. But Simon is slowing down, so we don't play as much as we used to. Gee, this is starting to sound pretty dire!
Maybe I’ll have to develop a tighter relationship with my wife? Nah. Don't want to do THAT! Actually, joking aside, that is exactly what I need to do, as our lives for a variety of not-to-blame-anyone reasons have grown far too separate. Again, nothing unusual. But also not good.
It's up to me–US–to make each other a priority again. Soon enough–three short years from now–it will just be the two of us when our younger boy heads off to NYU, the one college he plans on attending, though he will apply to others.
By that time, the bank accounts will be smaller. Our travel plans will be reduced to visiting the local mall and walks on the beach. Dinner out will be fast food only, and we’ll be going to matinee movies and cutting out coupons regularly. Costco will be our store of choice, as it almost already is, and Target will replace Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s for our clothes shopping.
Of course I am–hopefully–exaggerating since no one can predict the economy and that will play a huge role in how our lifestyle is re-defined and/or downsized. Regardless, there is a great opportunity here for my wife and me. We now can choose each other first. We now can really enjoy the blessing we have of being together. I just hope she doesn’t get one of those noisy little lap dogs!
About this column: Bruce Sallan is an Agoura Hills stay-at-home dad who is raising two teenage boys. Bruce’s first book, A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation is available at Amazon and the store at BruceSallan.com: http://brucesallan.com/index.php/store. Bruce Sallan’s column, “A Dad’s Point-of-View,” is carried in over 100 newspapers and websites worldwide. Please listen to “The Bruce Sallan Show - A Dad’s Point-of-View,” his one-hour radio show, which is available anytime, via live stream, or to download for free on BruceSallan.com.