Empty Nest: Someday is Today

Image

A vignette of the youngest of three and only daughter going off to college…

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 9.47.27 AM

It had been looming. But I put it out of my mind. Concerned  myself with matters of the day. Reminding Alexa to write her thank you notes. Going to Target one last time, although we’d said that last time. Keeping up with the laundry. Planning her last meal. It sounded so final. All of it. Though I’d been through it twice before, this was different. This was my daughter. Growing up and moving away. Only for eight months, I told myself, but I knew better. Eight months would turn into years, four if we’re lucky, and then a job and an apartment… And this is my life.

It’s different with girls. The tears for one. Her friends visited in waves. Memories and tears flooded my house and me, too. I remembered them all playing, as little girls. The memories came as fragments. The laughter. The quiet little voices of girls I used to eavesdrop on and secretly smile.

I flashed to a memory of my own. My circle of friends, about Alexa’s age, sitting around my friend Donna’s kitchen table, laughing and talking, and her mother turned to us and said, “I can see you as old ladies doing the very same thing as you are right now.” She must have felt what I am feeling. A little bit of nostalgia wrapped around hope and mourning all at the same time.

The night before, I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, trying to force the thoughts out of my mind. I willed myself not to think. I prayed, attempted to think of other things instead. The minutes on my bedside clock crawled slowly by. At midnight, I decided to get up, see if she’d come home. She had been out with her “Core Four” for one last hurrah, but I didn’t hear her come in.

I stood at the doorway of her bedroom. She was laying facedown. The dog at the foot of her bed. I stood there for a moment, almost walked back to my room, but something called to me to crawl beside her in her bed and wrap my arm around her. So I did. Seconds later, her sleepy voice whispers, “Mom, are you trying to make me cry?”

Startled, I said no and told her I’d go back to my own room. She replied no, rolled over and said, “I’ve been crying all night anyway.” Alexa isn’t a crier. In fact, she’s usually quite stoic which she got from her dad or mine. She scooched over into the crook of my arm and held me tight.

We talked about the night. She showed me snapchats of the four girls, faces soaked with tears, caught mid-laughter. I gave her advice on letting go and belonging, settling into her new life with new friends. She confided that she was, in fact, excited about college, but sad about all the everyday things she’d miss. Waking up in her own bed, squished between two dogs, hearing about my day or telling me about hers, going to the gym with Morgan or the dog park with Cassidy or watching Hannah Montana with Ally. All the little things. The things that I would miss too. The night went on this way for two and half hours until she fell asleep, comfortable in the crook of my arm. Me listening to her breath rise and fall.

It took me back to a moment when she was just a toddler. I’d written a poem about it. She was laying on my bed because she couldn’t sleep. Together, we said her prayers, the way we did every night and she ended with, “God bless everyone I love,” the way she did every night. Then she fell into a peaceful sleep, next to me on the same pillow, her face facing mine. I watched her, peacefully, breathe— our breaths in sync. And I wrote that I knew someday, our breaths would no longer be in sync.

The thought brought me to this moment. The moment we move out of sync.

Image-1

Advertisements

Phantom Children

Sending a child off to college is what I’d imagine severing a limb is like. You feel phantom pain long after it’s gone; though in this case, it’s more like a sense of longing than actual pain.

I recall telling my mother, during my first pregnancy, “I just can’t wait to get this A.F.P. screen done because then I can stop worrying.” My mother laughed a very throaty guffaw and replied, “Honey, once you’re a mother, you will NEVER [strong emphasis on that word] stop worrying.”

Likewise, I recall my girlfriend, who is about 10 years older than I and has two children from a previous marriage 10ish years older than my children, who wisely stated, “The older they get, the bigger their problems.”
Two very profound pieces of advice/information. I’ve heard their words more than several times throughout my child rearing years, and suppose I will continue to hear them ringing in my ear like a reminder— I am a mother. Who said letting go would be easy?

I just never thought it would be THIS hard.

My first son left for school, being admitted for 2nd semester after being put on a wait list at initial acceptance time. Ahh… I thought, more adjustment time for me. No so, really; instead, just prolonging the inevitable. You know people say that children have a way of behaving unbearably before going off to college to subconsciously help them with the letting-go process. I do believe in the trickle-down theory, and while, immediately, I think it helped– that “I can’t wait to get you out of my house”- feeling subsided the moment he wrapped his arms around me, said “goodbye Mom,” in his sweetest most affectionate voice, and the long journey home, trapped in contemplative thought– where I’d forgotten every curse word, temper tantrum, missed curfew, banged-up car, roof jumping, new tattoo, bong finding, ten-nine, break-up, principal calling, passed-out stupor incident that had led up to this moment.

“Goodbye, Mom.” CHOP. SLASH. KAPUT. Limb gone.

I return home to an eerily quieter house, his neat (bed made, empty floor, everything in it’s place) room. I look at the clock and think, hmm, he isn’t home yet… OH, that’s right, he’ll be home in about three months.

After the second child, it isn’t any easier. It’s just that, now, I know what to expect.

One thing I’ve learned with the first is that I haven’t lost him, which is what I feared initially, but our relationship has morphed into something else– something very different.

I have to concede that I will not talk to him everyday, and I’ll miss a lot of the little things, nor can I take for granted that he is just there when I want or need him to be.

I learn to set aside time to call him, or drop everything when he calls me. I have to be content that he’s eager to share all of the big things, and savor every moment we can share in person– like stocking up on my hugs and listening to him, really listening to every single thing, and living in the moment.

I have to push my worries aside, not focus on those, and hope that all of the big lessons they learned at home will prepare them for all of the lessons they are about to face on their own. I put my trust in God to keep him safe, happy and healthy.

Keeping my mind focused on the big picture helps. I’ve created this child to love, teach, nurture, enjoy in order to set him free to become his own person one day. While it all seemed so very far away 21, and  again 18 years ago, it’s here, today and everyday, now.

And I have one more left before the nest is empty.