Lesa Knollenberg
freelance writer in
madison, wi

Going Home


There’s been a change at the gym. Instructors are moving on, and not checking with me first. They probably don’t realize how much their particular brand of motivation helps me each day, but I’ve come to rely on these folks quite a bit. I’ve also noticed that the trendy hot pink shirt I finally got accustomed to wearing is going out of style, replaced by muted earth tones for fall.

The woman in charge of my emotional well-being now cuts my hair in a completely different salon, and even my venerable Runner’s World has changed its format.

My name is Lesa, and I don’t like change.

It’s easy for me to focus on these superfluous things right now, because there’s a major change coming down the pike that I’m trying to cope with. My oldest son is graduating.

It’s not like he’s moving out forever (it’s just for a few months at a time! I keep reminding my youngest son, who already has plans to replace his brother’s bedroom with a gaming room.) And it’s not like he’s dying. He’ll be coming home, and I realize the gift in that. My cousin Jeff and his wife would surely love to have their Garrett home for the holidays. My neighbors, who lost their vibrant 17-year old daughter, would do anything to have Cora pop through their door. I think of them daily and wonder how they find the strength. So if my bright, capable, optimistic son is going to university, then it’s only by grace we get to watch.

Some people are glad to have kids move out, but I’m dreading it. I wanted a family for so long, and it has been more poignant than I ever imagined. When Hubby and I were told we probably couldn’t have children, we considered another path: full-time camp counselors. That way we could get our kid fix and still make a difference. In nature. But then we were blessed with Noah. And since then, I’ve realized I’m not very good at transitions, and it makes me laugh when I think how dreadful I would have been at goodbyes at the end of summer camp, too.

So I did what I always do when I’m struggling with something: I run away. This time I went north to the family cottage, where my parents were celebrating Christmas with my mom’s side of the family. My mom and her brothers were orphaned at a young age, and they are heartily committed to keeping their connection with each other. Every year, in September, the siblings and their spouses meet somewhere for almost a full week. No Christmas gifts, just walks and good food and maybe a little bit of wine.

The cottage is one of my favorite places in the world, and these are some of my favorite people in the world. My aunts and uncles have seen me through some dreadful stages: the snotty years, the unfortunate ‘zits, braces and back brace’ years, and the aforementioned infertility. There are probably more stages that I’m not even aware of, ones they’ve secretly named “her Marcia Brady phase” or “that summer she talked like a Valley Girl.” But like all good aunts, uncles, and parents, they seem to have forgotten the bad stuff. I just wanted to see them. Since the trees were starting to change in Northern Wisconsin, and I had just started a good audio book, I thought running away was a sensible plan.

The minute I walked through the cabin door I became a brat. (Spoiled brat, not the Johnsonville kind, my Wisconsin friends). They took me out for dinner, listened to my stories and stayed up later than they might have just because I was there. I slept in a sleeping bag, and read with a flashlight until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. All I was missing to relive adolescence was my retainer.

In the morning, I awoke to their sounds, upstairs. I could smell the coffee and hear the kitchen chairs slide across the pine floor. It was like I was young again, and the voices of the people who know things were just above me. They’ve seen so much more than I have, and dealt with tougher burdens than I can imagine, but the thing that woke me up was their laughter. It’s a good day when you can wake up to coffee and laughter and your sleeping bag still warm from the night. When I had to leave, they filled a cooler with leftovers and my heart with soft warm love and I left wondering if Noah will come home for a little sustenance when he gets older, too. There’s nothing like family to help get you over a dreadful stage and make you realize that things will turn out fine. And if they don’t, it’s completely reasonable to just go home again.