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The Empty Nest

When you have a baby, you imagine all the wonderful things he or she will get to experience in their lifetime. At the time, the list of life experiences seems incredibly vast, and the time in which to experience those milestones feels immeasurable. Logically, we know we are having kids and raising them so we can send them off to live a life of their own. But when that day actually arrives….well, I can attest that we are never ready to see our children leave the nest.

Our son left home about five years ago. He moved in with a buddy, then moved back home a few months later. He left again…came home again…and eventually he flew the coop for good. It was never easy seeing him go, and to this day I hate saying goodbye. He and his wife live a few hours away, so we’re fortunate to see them often. But he’s still my firstborn and I doubt I will ever get used to his room no longer being His.

This past weekend we moved our daughter (and the baby of the family) off to college, which is thankfully in the same city where her brother lives. The months leading up to this big move have been filled with excitement and melancholy and much planning. Although she attended junior college locally, she had remained living at home. A homebody at heart (like her mom), this new adventure of hers may push the boundaries of her comfort zone. I suppose we will have to wait and see. She may surprise us all with her willingness to break free of what she'd grown comfortable with.

I’m happy to say that the move itself went well. She’s in a nice, safe little apartment and has a wonderful roommate. She’s close to school…and close to her brother, which tempers my anxiety so much. I still worry about her and assume I will continue to just as I have worried about her brother. Even though they leave the nest that never changes.

Yesterday as I bustled around my too-quiet home – cleaning carpets and generally re-organizing everything – I kept anticipating the influx of emotion I’d yet to experience and have heard so much about. Aside from one brief panic attack while moving her into her apartment, I hadn’t cried once. What you need to understand is that I’m a crier. I cry over everything – sappy commercials, sweet cards from my husband. Each and every person who knows me has expected me to implode during this entire move. You see….my daughter and I spend a lot of time together. We enjoy one another’s company. We shop together, get our nails done together, and talk about anything and everything. The implosion that has yet to happen is fully justified. I keep waiting for it. But I will say that I’ve consciously made a decision to avoid “triggers”, such as sad music and a letter she left for me with strict instructions not to open until after she’d moved out.

I know I’m not the first parent – we aren’t the first parents – to experience an empty nest. And while I’m certain there are many, many wonderful things about returning to a life post-children, I rather enjoy my house with kids in it. I enjoy when their friends would just show up unannounced, wanting to talk, needing to eat. I have embraced the way our kid’s friends confide in us and talk to us about things they might not talk to their own parents about. Granted, I’m sure one or two surrogate children will grace my front door in the coming months, but somehow it’s not the same.

What I do know about this empty nest of mine is this:

  • It’s quiet. Too quiet. I find that I’m talking to myself more (if that’s possible), but that music does help.

  • It’s clean. Not that my daughter was messy per se, but just having another person in the house did create extra “stuff” (particularly her shoes, which were always left in a pile just inside the front door).

  • Cooking for two is a challenge. Even though there’ve only been 3 of us living in the house for the past few years, I have still managed to cook for a family of 4. Granted, we do eat leftovers and there was always a surrogate child or two to feed, so cooking for a family didn’t seem strange. But I’m Italian, and cooking “small” isn’t really in my nature. I suppose as with everything else, it will be a work in progress.

  • Our grocery bill is much lower. Again, cooking for two versus cooking for a family is decidedly cheaper. I guess that will leave more money for the meals the hubby and I plan to eat out.

  • I constantly wonder….what the heck did I do with myself before I had kids? There seems to be so many hours ahead of me with nothing else to do but work and write. I wish I could remember what my life was like 25 years ago, but I really can’t. I know that the hub and I partied with our friends. I know we watched a lot of movies, because we were too broke to do anything else. But really….what was our life like pre-children? Seems like every memory I have now is of the years following our son’s birth. Does that happen to all parents?

I fully admit to forced happiness the moment I hugged her goodbye and we drove away. She’s not a crier, but I saw the emotion in her eyes. And the fear too. The mom in me wanted to grab her up and never let her go. The adult in me was screaming….smile, offer encouragement, and JUST LET HER GO.

As we drove away on Sunday and headed for home, I reminded myself of all the good and wonderful reasons why I shouldn’t be sad. This is a golden opportunity for our child to shine, to work toward a goal she’s wanted for quite a while now. Once all is said and done, she’ll have a master’s in Speech & Language Pathology and will go on to work with kids and adults and enrich their lives. How could this ever be a bad thing?

The week before her move, she and I had matching tattoos done; butterflies with infinity symbols underneath them. This small token of our bond is reflective of our closeness as mother and daughter, and as friends. It is also an homage of sorts to her childhood, when I used to sing to her the song “Butterfly” by Mariah Carey.

Our parting “gift” to our girl was a Homesick Jar; a plastic jar I filled with favorite quotes, little reminders, and more than a few “We miss you” notes. It was our way of letting her know that it’s okay to be homesick; it happens to all of us. My hope is that she will turn to that jar whenever the doubts are running high, or whenever she’s really missing being that little girl listening to her mom sing to her. I hope she’ll turn to those little snippets of wisdom when she’s longing for her dad’s laughter or a dream-filled night in her own bed. What I hope more than anything is that she spreads those wings of hers ….and flies.

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