I gave my kiss goodbye, walked away toward an empty nest and my mind is flooded with visions of the day that I left the hospital as a new mom. My stomach was in knots, and I couldn’t believe they were actually letting me take ownership of this human. I had heard experienced moms say things like, “Oh, that’s a hungry cry. That cry means she’s tired. That sounds like he needs his diaper changed.” “That cry means that it’s going to rain!” WHAT? How the heck did they know baby language? I was clueless and convinced that this child wouldn’t survive my limited knowledge. I’m experiencing those same feelings as I dropped off my Lauren for college, but this time it was more of a letting go panic. I did what I have decided to call cram-parenting on the drive down to Birmingham. I have to admit that it was a little easier when my son went to college two years ago. Maybe it was mistakes that I had made in college or situations that could have been disastrous, but I talked and she listened. I’ll spare you the details of our talks but it covered the gamut from parties, traveling with a group, walking to your car at night, talking out issues with her roommate and even tornado safety!
It was the last little bit of our drive that I will remember best of all. With an hour to go, we played a little game: you had to pick the best song from every CD in the car and play it. It was fun reliving the Hannah Montana and Jesse McCartney years. She still knew every word. We got to one of her Dad’s CDs and we both had our moment. Our conversation the night before at our last dinner out and her emotional state hearing her Dad’s voice out of the car stereo made me realize the new grief and pain that had seeped back into my little girl’s conscious mind. For their high school years, my kids buried themselves in the busyness of school. Studying and focusing on grades, college prep and their extracurriculars provided a safe haven. When it was necessary, situational grief arose. I call it that because there are snippets of grief that still arise based on a situation. It was best for my family not to allow it to flood all at once. I still have grief that comes up from my Dad’s passing eleven years ago, triggered by big family moments such as a wedding or something as simple as seeing a farmer milking a cow at the county fair. My children have learned that this is a life long pebble in the shoe. Sometimes it settles into a comfortable zone, but every now and then something kicks it out to an irritating, unsettling spot. When you feel it, you deal with it. When you don’t, you don’t let it pervade your life. It’s survival.
At our dinner out the previous night, she teared up talking about pulling pictures off of her Dad’s computer to put onto her new laptop. She found a video that he had saved of his last birthday. She had made him cupcakes complete with chocolate molded music notes and even an edible CD. It made her cry and when she skyped her boyfriend that night, he tried to make it better. She explained. “I kept telling him not to try to make it better. It’s ok to cry and be sad now and then.” Yep. That’s the key. That’s also the key to surviving homesickness and separation anxiety. Let it come up when it needs to, but don’t allow it to rule your life. Don’t allow it to rob your joy. Don’t allow it to derail your plans.
Here’s an overused sentimental quote: “There are two gifts we should give our kids, one is roots and the other is wings.” I don’t know about you but before I had grown kids, I always visualized this beautiful eagle gliding through the sky when I read this quote, but my experience is that they really don’t soar away. They kind of flap around a lot, going up and down, bumping into trees, falling to the ground, getting up a foot and then falling again. And we look down from our empty nest watching them with a detached discomfort. Detached because if we try to fix their problems, they will forever bump into trees and not exercise their muscles to fly on their own. Discomfort because every instinct in our bodies screams to help them.
I’ll need to follow my own advice as I face this empty nest. I have plenty of distractions and I’m frankly flapping around a bit: a new job with new challenges (God help me be patient with teaching little kids), a new home with Jack, unpacking and finding a new yoga studio home. I am careful not to check in too much with Lauren. I am afraid it would take away her power, and this isn’t all about me and how I’m feeling. I want her to remember that she’s got this. She has everything she needs inside of her to deal with the separation, the challenges and rigors of college life and to fix her own problems. I’ll keep the pebble of grief and loneliness tucked between my gold toe ring and my big toe and when it gets uncomfortable, I’ll deal with it.