The weeks were dwindling down, and whenever I tried to concentrate on something else, thoughts about my son’s high school graduation kept pushing to the forefront of my mind. Not only were there the logistics to tend to – how early did we need to leave to get a good seat? How warm of an Arizona night would it be at the outdoor stadium?
But there was also the existential to ponder – how could it be that my baby was graduating high school and would be moving out in mere weeks? Was he actually ready to handle all that college would throw at him?
While certain moments last Spring brought some twinges of doubt about his readiness, I was feeling moments of pure giddiness – like I was sixteen again, new driver’s license tucked into my faux-leather clutch, stepping into my brother’s old VW Rabbit, with Duran Duran set to blast from the cassette deck. It was that almost soaring feeling of freedom washing over me again, but this time, I felt a strange need to squash it down – to deliberately shrink my emotions to match what most other Moms around me were feeling.
Was I a horrible mother for gleefully anticipating an empty nest? Was I beyond selfish that I daydreamed about quiet evenings and a house that stayed clean for days? So many Moms seemed to be bobbing in a shallow sea of sadness, while I was mentally running down the pier ready to cannonball into a shimmery lake of freedom.
The striking similarity to my son’s very first day of school was not lost on me. It was the first year that our district was offering free, all day Kindergarten. That morning in his classroom will forever be etched into my memory. The hexagon shaped tables with white, plastic baskets that held fat pencils and crayons, and the coloring sheet for each student to start working on as parents milled about, some comforting crying children, and some tearing up themselves.
When Mrs. R., dressed in her denim jumper with the golden school bus on it, finished reading The Kissing Hand and sweetly declared it was time for the Moms and Dads to go, I glanced around to see if anyone else had that look on their face, and caught the twinkling eyes of another Mom like me – “I get you,” we acknowledged with a sly smile – SIX HOURS OF FREEDOM!
We both had “those” boys: highly energetic, second- borns who were more than ready to be at school like their older siblings and didn’t even glance at us as we exited the room. Not a twinge of sadness on either end.
And that is how my son’s impending departure for college felt as well. We were all ready. It felt like it was time. Yet still, I tried to psychoanalyze my feelings a bit, as guilt would gnaw at my attempts to sleep.
Due to my husband’s stint in the military, and then his subsequent job that requires a lot of travel, I’ve operated as a single parent for much of my Mom-duty time (To all the real single parents out there, you have my utmost respect and admiration). An empty nest beckoned to me as the chance to finally and deeply exhale – both physically and mentally.
Because as all mothers will attest, from the moment our children are born, we become Empaths, developing high sensitivities to both feel and absorb our kids’ emotions and energies. Their stress causes our stress, their joy fills us with similar delight. As our children age, we become increasingly more hands-off with each passing year, but we can never turn our brains off, nor shut our emotions down. When your children leave your home, much of this day-to-day emotional oscillation dissipates as well.
And without a doubt, I most looked forward to being set free from the Daily Dinner Dilemma– and all that surrounds it. The planning, the shopping, the prepping, the cooking and the cleaning up. Now, even when my husband is at home, more often than not, our dinner is some appetizers and a glass of wine. Let me tell you, it’s been glorious.
The last few months that a child is at home before heading off to college, trade school, the military, or a gap year is an emotional roller coaster ride like no other. There are days at the tops of the tracks where you love them so fiercely you never want to let them go. There are days down in the lowest dips when you want to pack a bag for them and change the locks. The crazy, corkscrew loop moments are when you are just flabbergasted with frustration or disappointment or sheer exhaustion. This so-called “soiling of the nest” creates a little biosphere of crackling tension that aches for a resolution. The tension feels magnified when it is the last child at home.
So, if you are a fellow parent currently feeling any bit of guilt for counting down the days until your nest is empty, please allow yourself to be at peace with your authentic thoughts and feelings.
It is entirely possible to both love the feeling when they are at home with you, and the feeling when they are away. There may be frequent comings and goings during this next phase. You will anticipate their every homecoming, and a few days or weeks later, likely anticipate your new normal all over again.
I like to think of my empty nest as a reward for a job well done, while I’m still working towards my next parenting promotion.