I have three teenagers. Next fall, the oldest will be headed to college (Covid-willing; please let this crapshow be in the rearview mirror by then). While college is still a few years off for the younger two, our house is likely to feel incredibly empty considering we are currently homeschooling one and remote schooling the other two. We have homeschooled for the last seven years so I’m used to hardly ever being alone. Plus, the pandemic has given us an unexpected level of togetherness that will likely evaporate as suddenly as it started.
Whew, I’m a little dizzy just imagining that.
First, I want to give a small warning to you moms of sweet babes for whom you are the sun and the moon. An empty nest does not arrive on a single fall day when you drop the last of your offspring off at college or boot camp or at their shiny new first apartment. No, it is a slow emptying.
By the time those sweet babes are 14, the nest feels emptier than it technically is. Sure, they still live there, as evidenced by an unreasonable number of water bottles, dirty laundry, and gym shoes strewn about. Yes, the water bill and grocery budget still suggest that you are hosting a professional football team at your house. But their presence is scarce. School before dawn, sports practice after school, a group project meeting after that, and then studying until past my bedtime. The house – and my time – has started to feel empty well before anyone actually leaves.
On the one hand, I am not the mom who is impatiently counting down the days to an empty nest, wine bottle in one hand and vacation reservations in the other, excited to get my life back the day after dropping my kid at college. Being a mom IS my real life, and I am grateful I got to spend the last 17 years doing it my way.
On the other hand, I can easily imagine – even look forward to – my days once they are no longer filled with planning lessons, cooking for a crowd, or driving kids to practice. A business that will flourish with a little more attention, a volunteer gig that I will love devoting more time to, hobbies I will enjoy doing regularly instead of occasionally, friends I plan to see frequently instead of rarely.
The unease I feel is not one of empty-nester moms in the movies – suddenly uncertain, bored, lonely, adrift. No, this unease is familiar. Each separation from my children has been leading up to now. I remember how broken-hearted I felt at their weaning, a separation from me that they each did on their own, without my permission. Then preschool – only a few hours a week but still away from me. Soon, kindergarten – a little more time, a few more days. On and on until they drive away to school or practice in their own car – an unprecedented demonstration of their separateness and personal freedom. And now we are nearly there – time to pack their things, decide which city they are moving to, home becoming the place they visit instead of the place they live.
Dear readers, each of those small separations leading to bigger separations leading to THE BIG LEAVING are not just training for our children in how to separate from us and become adults.
Those separations are training US, their mothers, in how to let go. Every single one of those times I dropped them off somewhere new and sat in my car crying, it ended the same way. I eventually dried my tears, readjusted my mom job description, and got back to the work of it in that slightly new and uncomfortable way. The same thing will happen this time. I will cry. I will dry my tears. And while I have no idea what it will look like yet, I will figure out my job description as “Mom of an Adult.”