Empty Nesting is Not for the Faint of Heart

I swear to you, as God is my witness, that I turned my back to make my eight-year old son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and when I turned around, he had graduated high school and left for college.

This is not hyperbole.

Well, okay, it is. But I swear it feels like it’s true.
I cannot believe it’s nearly time for him to leave already. I can’t believe all the school pictures that I have been painstakingly placing in the photo albums through the years are now finished. I hold the final and last one in my fingers. This photo of him grinning–so self-assured!–in his tuxedo and too-long hair (a little senioritis rebellion) is the endcap for his school years that began with the  mother’s morning out that he and I pretended was “real” school, because he went with a backpack and a snack and came home with praise from the “teachers” and excited reports about the other kids on the playground—particularly fascinating for an only child.
And now he’ll be “coming home” at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I feel like turning to my husband and saying: “Did you know there was an end date?” Why don’t they tell you that when you bring your little bundle of joy home from the hospital? “Hey, New Mom, word to the wise.  He’s already plotting how to leave home.”
While it’s true I have a couple months yet before we pack John Patrick’s bags and shop for his dorm furniture, I already see previews of the life to come in how his older friends, home for the holidays last year, behaved (so grown up!) and in John Patrick’s impatience this spring with his last few months of high school.
I  promised myself that I was not going to be one of those clingy mothers who refuses to let her child stretch his wings and fly the nest. I want my son to have an awesome college experience, maybe meet someone special who we’ll all grow to enjoy and love.

But until then, I totally reserve the right (when he’s not present to witness it) to be as sad and bereft as I know how to be at the ending to what was, honestly, the happiest and most fulfilling eighteen years of my life.

I know he’s literally counting the weeks until he goes. He’s anticipating the official beginning of his new exciting life. That’s as it should be. His Dad and I will wait for him to come home and report on his new world, his teachers, and new friends. Before he leaves again.

And it figures, the dog he leaves behind doesn’t even like peanut butter & jelly.

29 thoughts on “Empty Nesting is Not for the Faint of Heart

  1. It is sad when they leave, and they are starting a new life, but here’s what you didn’t say…You are starting an exciting new life as well. Don’t think that you have to sit and wait for him to come home. You can be uniquely busy re-discovering the world like he will be. Now is the time for grown-up fun! Hang in there…

  2. Yes, a new stage in your life is beginning. Soon you will learn to appreciate the alone time and the silence and that makes the visits home all the more exciting. BTW, my son did tell me he was homesick. 🙂

    • Well, I have hope then. I know we’ll all eventually adjust to it. I’m trying to focus on the good things to rediscover in my life when he’s gone…and let’s face it, the last year of high school most kids are gone more than they’re home anyway!

  3. Phew! That’s a tough one. It’s not something I’ve experienced because I didn’t have children but I see my close friend coming up to it and I can at least empathise and understand, albeit faintly, the sense of loss. Things ain’t ever going to be the same again, but it’s important the kids break away and go, and it’s important to grieve for that loss.

    But hey! You get a whole lot more time to yourself (in theory). More ‘you time’ as my friend puts it (admittedly with a tear in her eye). Enjoy what is on offer. And hugs across the Atlantic if you need ’em 🙂

  4. Oh, I so understand! My only child just graduated college and is moving out of state in a few weeks. I’m so excited for him, but boy does it ever feel like the end of an era. Sure, I hardly saw him when he was away at college, but this is an even larger step. I’m so happy for him that he is doing what he has dreamed about, but I sure wish that we were going to be in the same geographic area (and doing something relatively safe, like accounting, instead of flying jets)! I didn’t really miss him when he first left for college, but am feeling all of those empty nesting pangs now! Even having 5 yrs instead of 4 to prepare for this next step, I find I’m not quite ready just yet! But here it comes, all the same.

    Good luck to you and to your son as you begin this next adventure in your lives.

    • Oh, Anne…so you’re confirming that the feeling of loss just morphs into a different tincture and prob doesn’t really end. I asked my 90-year old mother last week how she processes the fact that her first-born (my older brother) picked up after college and moved to the West coast (we lived in Florida) and has made that his home for the last 40 years. She sees him and his wife once a year. I told her I didn’t think I could bear having that kind of long-distance relationship with my boy. She said: “It was his choice. I didn’t love the idea of him wanting to live so far away but it’s what he wanted to do.” (Now, she has two other sons that live in the same town she does (and they’re pretty attentive to her) and me 300 miles away, who is likewise pretty attentive, so I’m sure that takes the sting out of my older brother’s preferred absence.)

  5. Do you find you think from the perspective of losing your definition? Kahlil Gibran points mothers are the bows and the child is the arrow. I have a seven year old. He is an only. I have been working on finding a me without him as well as making sure I spend time with him where I am completely present. My heart is with you sister. Have faith.

    • Thanks, Shalagh. I’m doing a lot of graduation videos for his big graduation party next week and seeing all these videos of my son and me over the years on vacation, etc. I see me, in general, fussing over him, brushing his hair, etc. while his eyes are watching something in the distance and I can see as I edit the videos that all through his childhood and adolescence it was always me zeroed in on him and always him zeroed in on the future or where he was going next. Seeing it kind of helped to also see that, like you say, I was doing my best to prepare him to meet the world and he was always accepting my love and attention as a default situation. Me, the bow, him the arrow. I like that analogy a lot.

  6. Beautifully put! You seem to have just the right touch of humor in your melancholy, if you ask me. My nest has been empty for going on two years now, and it isn’t much easier!
    I know just what you mean, exactly, about turning around to make that sandwich!

  7. “I’m trying to focus on the good things” the good thing is your son is stepping, maybe running, maybe flying or diving headlong into a new life. his life, his adventures, his dragons to battle with, his wings to build, his discoveries to make and his mistakes to learn from. his dreams. and sometimes nightmares to work his way through, this is the moment and the why you raised him the way you did, with the values, the knowledge and the character you stuffed into him bit by bit, your teaching will be his tool box to build his life and fix HIS mistakes. got a feeling, whether he knows it or not, you gave him a pretty good tool box, might take a will, a couple stumbles to learn the value of the tools you gave him, but have faith he’s got it with him. but back to the good thing the kid’s gunna fly on his own wings built with your love. rejoice.

  8. Susan the good news is we’ve all been there, both as the kid needing to be free and the parent wanting to keep them safe. with all the bad we hear about in the world, there’s still far more good.
    most kid’s, from both sides of the tracks, hit a few ruts and gullies along the way and most find their way through the dark forest to a place, maybe not the place you were hoping for, but a place where they can shine in their own time and way.
    some head right to that place, with others it’s even the place you wished they would find, but most find a new place, their place. A place that might seem scary and uncomfortable to you, but where your son feels at home,
    scary, your job as the parent is to learn without judgment where that place is and unwrap it’s mysteries with your son’s eyes, so that you can see why the wings you built for him with your love have lead him to this new and different place,
    then take a bite of the fruit from the tree he planted and learn to love it’s warm and slightly bitter taste, because that place is now your son’s home. visit it often. the bitterness will soften. and your son will shine.
    probably not in the way you expected or wished, but here’s the point, he’ll shine in his way because that’s what you taught him, when you gave him the wings and the freedom to use them.

    • Mind you, that experience–no matter how long ago–is one we’ll none of us forget v soon! LOL! I too have almost every minute of that day etched firmly and forever in my memory. Glad you stopped in, Norma! Love your books.

  9. Pingback: Telling your family you want to live abroad: A work of historical fiction (unedited) | Between The Breaths

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