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

1,2,3: Let Go

123 nest

I have spent 46% of my life parenting. Day in and day out, tending to the needs of my three children, adjusting my schedule to theirs, knowing where they are at virtually all times, feeling comforted that, at the end of the day, they are all under one roof with their heads resting on their pillows, bodies safely tucked into their beds. Together, we have survived the chaos of play dates, sibling rivalry, defying chores, tackling homework, trying to be in three places at one time, creating and adjusting calendars, milestone celebrations, extra-curricular schedules, rides to and from, and the list goes on and on and on. There is a plaque on our kitchen wall that reads:

123 heart

I, along with my husband, have lived in the state of mayhem for twenty-three years. As a first time parent, I had no idea the life we’d will be thrust into– no one does. It comes on fast but slow, through stages, at the same time. It is inextricably the greatest whirlwind of my life, and I wouldn’t change a second of it for anything.

Except, now, my husband and I are on the cusp of an empty nest, and I’m bracing myself. It hadn’t occurred to me until my eldest son got on a plane to move across country, after he’d graduated from college, to begin his life, what a shift in mine was about to occur. It took me by surprise, but then I realized the shift he’d created when he came into my life. Mothering was not immediately easy for me. There was an adjustment period, one in which I had to learn to let go of my autonomous self. And, now, I need to learn the reverse. Through three children, I’ve realized letting go isn’t an abrupt shift like becoming a parent was.

When my eldest moved away, I went through a period of mourning, almost like I’d lost him forever. It’s been two years now, and it’s easier, but not easy, none-the-less. I miss the day to day things. When I talk to him, I find myself trying to catch him up but only having time for or remembering the big things. I recall his last year of high school was the year of tears for me. I looked at every milestone, that year, as the last of something… the last dance, the last photo, the last game, the last award, and graduation, the last day, and, finally, the last day of summer before he’d go off to college.

Then, I still had two children at home. My second son’s senior year of high school was a little easier, though bittersweet all the same. It was absent of nearly all the tears, as my approach had changed. I’d survived the first and knew how life would be after high school, and to that point, it wasn’t so bad. My eldest son came home from college some weekends, and on holidays, and for summer. This was mixed with we couldn’t wait to see him and we couldn’t wait for him to leave because when he was home he brought along his college swagger. He thought our house was his dorm and our rules had become non-existent: an aha moment for all of us, we needed to set the record straight.

123 departure

And, now, with the third, I find myself cautiously anticipating, for the aftermath is, again, unknown. The finality of the last child at home on a daily basis is our reality, right now.We are in the throws of what I call the Senior-Year-Wall. We experienced it with our two sons as well. It’s as if, subconsciously, in becoming these obstinate, unknown children to us, distancing themselves makes the prospect of the transition to college a little easier. I recall my eldest moved out into the yard his summer before college began in order to assert his independence; my second born took to living on the edge, pushing nearly every boundary we had set for him. And, so it has begun with our daughter. In my better moments, I can rise above it to recognize the stage for what it is. Yet, I cannot help, sometimes to find it infuriating and frustrating. When I take a step back, however, I realize the complexity of this stage, unlike any other. It’s perhaps more difficult for them to step out of the nest than it is for us to let go. We’ve been through it, ourselves, after all, and we’ve survived. So have our parents, and they survived, too.

For each of my children, I have written them a year-long letter that begins the first day of summer before senior year approaches and commences with graduation, one that encapsulates all the highs and lows for both of us. It becomes part of my graduation gift to them, though I’m not sure that when they receive it they are even, yet, fully equipped to understand it. Time and experience will make the words richer.

123 grad

A wise friend told me, “You have taught your children that the world is their oyster, and they have listened.” I am so immensely proud that I have taught my children to pursue their dreams, their passions. The exciting part of this stage is in watching them begin.

And, so, too, this is a time for my husband and I to begin. This new chapter in our lives is meant for us to pursue, perhaps renew, our dreams and passions. The shift needs not to focus on what we are losing but on what we are gaining. Not without pangs of adjustment, to be sure, I am almost excited for the prospects that lie ahead. I realize I cannot unknow what I’ve come to know– that my being as a parent has enriched who I am. No longer and never will I be again an autonomous being, for I am a parent; I will carry my children with me wherever I go. But the time has come to begin setting goals (short and long term) that at the center are about me. Letting go is not easy, but that’s what parenting is, and it’s a process just as regaining my sense of self is a process.

The LETTING-GO Plan 

1) Update my bucket list

2) Just breathe

3) Remember the plan all along was to raise them to become self-actualized adults

4) Take the transitions in stride

5) Enjoy my clean house

6) When it’s too quiet, remember when it was too loud

7) Cherish some friend time

8) Read more. Write more

9) Travel

10) Be there when they need me and sometimes when they don’t think they do

THE Talk: Educating your children, then letting them go

the talk

Giving your kids THE Talk is usually not easy, and I’ve come to realize I’ve given them several TALKs from the time they could understand until, now, as young adults. These are moments of imparting necessary pearls of wisdom upon them with the hope that they are listening, even if they only just latch onto the important parts. And the experienced parent knows, too often these talks are like those lectures you got in school that after a while sounded like the warbled teacher-talk in Charlie Brown.

None-the-less talking to children from experience is essential. Communication is everything.

One of the earliest talks was when I had to tell my toddler that biting is unacceptable. Not long after came the It’s time to stop sucking your thumb talk. Only to be followed by the Look both ways before you cross the street, then look again talk.  As young children, these talks were a matter of imparting lessons, not of the uncomfortable nature.

It didn’t get uncomfortable until puberty when it came time to talk about body changes. I remember buying the book My Body Myself for my firstborn, Ryan. It’s an educational/journal/workbook of sorts with, perhaps, too many pictures. I told Ryan he might like to flip through this book to give him some information about the ways in which he should expect his body to change. A reassurance for him that he isn’t morphing into some kind of monster. After a day or so, I knew he flipped through the book because he said to me, “Mom, did you read that book before you gave it to me? Because I’m not sure it’s really appropriate for me.”

The next conversation became even more uncomfortable, as my husband called NO DIBS regarding the sex talk with Ryan. At his school, a pediatrician came in, girls separated from boys, to explain the changes in body and discuss the birds and the bees. I saw this as a teachable moment. So, when he came home, I asked him about the talk, and it became clear that he wasn’t giving up any details. I said, “Now, Ryan, I’d like to tell you about sex which you may or may not know about already, but I’d like it to come from my mouth so I can be sure you have the right information.” His face blushed and he shrugged it off, saying, “You really don’t have to mom. Do you?” He was not getting out of listening even if he chose not to respond.

As he approached middle school, the talks became more important and touched on things like being a leader, listening to your inside voice, not succumbing to peer pressure regarding alcohol, nicotine and drugs.

In high school, the first AHA! moment snuck up on me when Ryan, as a freshman hockey player, got into the car of a senior for a ride home. I thought, OH RITE, time for this conversation. I was taken off guard that he would do so without permission. And this began a long line of decision making without permission. Welcome to those horrible teen years every parent already in-the-know warns you about. I thought I was ready… armed with my talks and positive reinforcement, feeling like I knew my child and his friends well enough to assume the kinds of risky behaviors they’d take part in. Afterall, I had been there. I thought I was a parent in-the-know. Turns out, I wasn’t until after I’d lived through it at least once. Then I thought I KNEW. But, I didn’t. The second is never exactly like the first. In fact, I’m still learning, but I haven’t stopped talking. I’ve even lowered myself to sneaking and prying and spying. Now, I know, there is nothing I will stop short of for the safety of my child.

The next TALK came the summer of my son’s junior year in high school. For this talk, I left a box of condoms, stealth-like, on his bed with a note that read, “This is not permission, it’s precaution, but I hope you will wait until you’re in love.” He was completely mortified, but his friends thought it was a cool way to deliver the message. I suspect my son did too, deep down, though he would never admit it.

As the TALKs continued, they became scarier and scarier because the next talk came upon him leaving my comfy, cozy and SAFE nest– when he went off to college. We talked about safety, independence, responsibility, time management, money management, considering consequences before acting/reacting… we talked about how what he did for the next four years would certainly be a foundation for his LIFE. His life. It was becoming abundantly clear that his life– apart from me and all our talks– was drawing near.

As a college graduate on the cusp of moving to the other side of the country for a very good job offer he’s accepted, we once again had THE Talk. This time is was about money and budgeting, legal documents, and credit ratings, banking and paying bills. This was one serious talk, but the difference this time is that he had become a man. I know this because he was fully engaged, taking it all in like a sponge.

I suspect this will not be the last of the TALKs I have with my firstborn, though they will most likely become farther apart from the last.

talk wordle