Robin Jean Marie Conte
Robin Jean Marie Conte

By Robin Jean Marie Conte

I knew what to do with a 2-year-old, but what do I do with a 22-year-old?

By the miracle of life, the 2-year-old boy who was toddling around our house — it couldn’t have been 20 years ago — has suddenly become a full grown man. He’s in that nebulous area of space and time, waffling between higher education and independent living.

He’s old enough to drive, vote and serve our country, but he still doesn’t know how to load a dishwasher. It’s that age between learning how to cite your sources and learning how to scramble an egg.

Some say it’s just a phase.

He went through phases when he was in his terrible twos. I remember that. There were books on that. There was the colicky phase, the phase of exploration, the “my little potty” phase. And although I ran myself ragged during that time, I knew that (fall-down-and-die exhaustion aside, I can’t say it enough) this would not be the most difficult part of mothering.

He still took naps. I was still bigger than he was — and continued to be, until he turned 12. Above all, I knew that the crap I dealt with then I could flush down the toilet.

But the age of unflushable crap has arrived.

Still, the similarities between a 2-year-old and a 22-year-old are remarkable.

When he was 2, he waddled around the house half-naked, wearing nothing but his diapers. It was very cute. At 22, he lumbers around the house, with his 6-foot-tall, extremely hairy body, wearing nothing but boxers or a wet towel—never both at the same time. It’s not so cute.

When he was 2, he pattered gleefully from room to room, marking his territory with squeaky toys and sippy cups. At 22, he plods from den to kitchen to bedroom, leaving a trail of stained coffee cups, half-eaten cookies and stacks of books in his wake.

When he was 2, he would wake up at 3 in the morning, crying from nightmares. At 22, he comes in at 3 in the morning. And I’m the one having nightmares.

I remember when he was born, how I labored for 26 hours until he finally came into the world, how my doctor presented me with him, saying, “It’s a boy! And he’s perfect!” I remember how I spent the night in the hospital, my first night as a mother, lying there with my brand new baby boy asleep on my stomach. It was the most magical night of my life.

I spoke to him as he slept in his infant oblivion. I told him about the room we had waiting for him at home, lined with stuffed animals and decorated with cheery colors. I told him about the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who couldn’t wait to meet him or see him again. I told him that his father and I were so happy to have him, about all the things we would do together, the fun we would have.

Then my husband entered the room, ever the eager one, actually trying to give me lessons on breast feeding.

The summer is almost over and my son will be leaving in a few days. I could say that I’ll miss his stacks of debris and barely-clothed hairy body. But I won’t. What I will miss is his company — his humor, his conversation, his incredible intelligence.

So as I close the door to his train wreck of a room, I remind myself: This is all just a phase.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see