The end of August, beginning of September seems to us to be the time of year most pregnant with memories. Your internal clock has been moving to this rhythm since kindergarten. If you liked school, you anticipated September’s coming. If you didn’t, that little nervous stomach ache would start right about now. Once you had children of your own, the rhythm had a new beat. Some summers you were sad to see end and others, you thought “horray for September”. But your rhythm now matched your children’s. If they were happy to go back to school, you were too. If they were apprehensive, you did what you could to soothe their worries. It all runs together, this end of summer rhythm, year in-year out, until that last summer before college. Now that rhythm is changed somehow, moving to a beat you don’t recognize.
Chances are it’s been an exciting year. Visiting colleges. Choosing a school. Senior Prom. Graduation. Trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond for the innumerable things you need to make the dorm room perfect. There have been moments here and there when reality sets in and you have a little cry. But all in all, it’s been a good summer. You’re both ready-or as ready as you’ll ever be.
Then comes empty nest. At first it feels like someone dropped a hornet’s nest on your bed while you were sleeping. You don’t know what’s happening but it hurts and your first instinct is to run. Pain and panic. You have no frame of reference for what you’re feeling and you feel slightly ashamed when you remember your older friends trying to explain it to you. You keep it to yourself because you realize when you articulate it, it sounds like self indulgent self pity and maybe it is. You should be doing a victory dance. After all, this is where the road was leading all the time. No matter what obstacles appeared, you kept your child on the path that led to that single bed in that dormitory room and that is no small feat.
Empty nest doesn’t start when the last child leaves. It starts when the first child leaves. The absence of each child leaves a unique hole because each child is unique. So you do what you can. Close their bedroom door for awhile. Don’t look at baby pictures. Put that coffee cup that says “world’s best mom” in the back of the cupboard. Deep breaths, big sighs.
Sometimes you might as well give in to it. It’s okay to throw yourself on the bed and bury your face in the pillow they left behind. It’s not that you miss them. Of course, you miss them. But if it was that simple, you’d get on the phone or in the car or buy them a ticket to come home. You miss that sense of purpose that has governed your life for so long. You want to smell that baby smell as your lips brush the top of your infant’s head. You want to feel the weight of a toddler falling asleep in your lap after a busy day. You want to put a bandaid on a scraped knee, kiss it better and wipe away the tears that made a crooked path in the dirt on that little face. You want to hear them spell that last word correctly in the spelling bee. Cheer the goal they made or saved on the soccer field. You want to snuggle under the covers and calm them after a bad dream. You want to hear the stories of first loves found and lost. You want to walk by their rooms in the morning and see them sleeping-the line between toddler and adolescent blurred by the innocence you see on their faces. You want twenty minutes where they are once again all that they have been since that moment the doctor said “congratulations. its a ______”. You want a time machine.
If it goes on too long, you’ll start to get on your own nerves and snap out of it. It eases. You make peace with it. Phone calls and visits make you realize that while it might be the end of childhood, it’s the beginning of something just as wonderful in its own right. You also begin to realize that there are new possibilities and new adventures on your horizon. You might even go on field trips, try new recipes and maybe even start a blog. But most of all, you realize, to quote that wisest of bears:
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
THE MENU: MASHED POTATOES WITH BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE COVERED BING CHERRIES
- boil peeled quartered potatoes until tender. Drain. Return to pot and mash. Add milk, butter, salt & pepper to taste. Take the pan to the couch with a pot holder and eat from the pan.
- Open the 14oz container of Dilettante Bing Cherries in Premium Chocolate (Trader Joes) and dig in. 14 ounces isn’t as much as you think it is.