I explained to P. that when people grown up, they usually move into their own homes and sometimes get married and have their own families. Someday, I said, you might get married and have children of your own and then you'd live with them.
Her response was to burst into a mess of sad sobbing.
I want to live with you, she said. I want to live with you forever!
In my own head, I laughed because the very first thought that popped into my head was 'Let's talk about it again when you're fourteen, not four.' And honestly, I hadn't expected her to react that way.
She was thinking about it through the lens of four years of experience, of course, so I don't know why I was surprised. Telling her she'll probably move out when she's twenty is like telling her she'll be moving out in a week or tomorrow or ten months from now. It's all immediate – in her imagining of adulthood, she's still four in her head.
Hugs and the promise that adulthood was years and years away, so far away it's not worth thinking about, got us through, and it hasn't come up again since.
But I still think about it sometimes. And when I think about it, I get sad. I suppose that I hadn't ever really thought about the idea at all until P. posed her question. I hadn't had a good reason to fast forward through two decades or so in my head. I have lots of good reasons not to.
My own exit from my mother's house was not planned and it was not happy, though when I came to pick up my stuff I put on a happy face and pretended everything was unfolding just as I intended. Because you never let them see you sweat, for one thing. And there was not a chance I was going to give anyone the satisfaction of thinking I cared.
I don't know that I did care.
Frankly, though I guess I was surprised that I was no longer welcome in my mom's house (one night a week, yes, but there are no one night a week apartment rentals out there so off I went), I was glad to have a reason to end that chapter of my life. To get away from so many bad memories of a childhood spent living the consequences of adults' mistakes.
I can be very sentimental, or I can be very cold. And I'd run out of energy years and years before that to have any sentiment to spare for childhood or my teen years or home and family. I wasn't leaving a den of cherished times and warmth. I was just leaving some place I knew I wasn't wanted anyway.
This is how I left home: with a suitcase worth of clothes, a coffee can of change and spare bills, and a sense that once again, I was in second place. I had six dollars in my checking account. I drove to my best friend's basement apartment. That night I ate Skittles for dinner because I couldn't even afford take out unless I wanted to pay in nickels. I drank cheap leftover party beer and found the cheapest Brooklyn sublet in the Village Voice.
A few days later, I was calling that sublet home.
That's not how I want P. or Bo to leave. I want the sentimental version. But by then, I also want us all to be ready. I want to have given my kids the tools they'll need to survive out in the world. I tell you this… whatever happens, they won't be eating candy for dinner their first night away from home because that's all they can find the money for. They won't be crashing on a friend's couch for a few days before moving to a 'hood known as a hub of gang activity. And they'll be leaving because they have somewhere to go and are excited to go there – not because they're not wanted.
Someday far too soon P. and Bo, too, and if I have done my job right they will think of moving out and moving on and smile. Not because they can't wait to leave, but because they'll have grown up in a home they'll know they can always come back to. And that will be pretty cool.