The cat has no one to wake up in our empty nest today. We have no alarm clocks in our house to rouse us for work unless you count the one with a tail and whiskers, and she starts duty promptly at five a.m. First she works me over; my husband is next in line. Finally, at seven, she quietly approaches the shut door of my younger daughter and sets to work.
“MOM! Sweetie is bothering me!”
This year our 17-year-old cat has ensured that our 18-year-old girl has been on time to school every single day.
Today, however, is different. Our teenager, along with her older sister, is at her job in New England. The cat is confused. What to do? She slept late, for one thing—first time in her life, perhaps. I peeked in on her at seven and what did I see but a curled-up calico, fast asleep in my daughters’ bedroom.
We all have some adjustments to make to an empty nest, and our pet has made hers rather quickly. I am trying to follow her lead.
I did not do so well when my first daughter left the nest. Our school has a long-standing tradition called “Senior Dinner,” where a postprandial DVD of the kids from babyhood to adolescence has its world premier. I held my emotions in check until my daughter snapped onto the screen, a third grader again, interviewed about why she liked her teacher. Then I realized with a rush that her childhood really was over and the tears cascaded through my makeup, down my fancy dress, and landed splat on my linen napkin. Sitting next to me, my daughter squeezed my hand, the other parents looked studiously away, and I sniffled my way through the rest of the video–crying fresh, salty tears all the while, my daughter’s hand in my lap. I was a Melting Mom.
It did not get better when I dropped her off at college, although true to form she was empathetic and strong. There, in front of an enormous freshman dorm where 250 kids buzzed in and out like honeybees, I stood sniffling once again. I wrapped my arms around her neck, hot tears cascading down my face. “It’s okay, Mommy,” she purred. “You’ll be okay,” she said, stroking my hair.
I promised myself that I would do better when my younger daughter graduated; I had two years to prepare.
Graduation itself was a time to rise to the occasion, and for the most part I did. At my daughters’ school, where I work, I was allowed to hand my girls their diplomas, an emotional moment. For my older daughter’s graduation, I felt a sense of loss as I did it, but pride too—in her as she walked like a young lady to the stage, looking radiant and beautiful—and as I took her in my arms I instinctively gave her a big kiss. I whispered, “I love you” and I could feel her squeeze me harder. I did the same thing when I handed the diploma to her sister—and the sense of overwhelming love I felt for my girls matched the sense of love I felt for them the day they were born, but more so. I know you know what I mean. Mother love is a love like no other.
But today, as I sit here thinking back to graduation and my memories of it, the cat is fast asleep on my older daughter’s bed, nestled on a piece of her clothing. She looks like she is adapting; I hope I will, too.