As I witness the mixed emotions of friends sending their birds — I mean kids — off to college to begin the rest of their lives, I’m acutely aware of how happy I am that it isn’t me doing the sending. I remember it well, though. And it wasn’t fun. Here’s how it’s gonna go:
You’re on the plane or in the car. You wonder what’s going through their 18 year old mind as they stare out the window. How can you help? You can’t. Destination for them: unknown. Destination for you: Letting go. Good luck.
Freshman year: they actually truly miss you. A lot. They come home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring break. But…
Sophomore year they’ve made lots of friends. They have a social life, a job. There’s all kinds of stuff happening on the weekends. Beer Pong tournaments! They start coming home less often. sniff.
Junior year they go abroad and don’t visit for months on end. And then they have the nerve to stay at school over the summer.
Senior year: you paint their bedroom their favorite color because for some reason you actually have this idea that after graduation life as you knew it before they left home will resume. But then there’s talk of looking for a job on the other coast. Why did you paint their room? Well, at least the walls look nice.
Since the day they’re born, we’re teaching our children how to live without us. So why are we surprised when they’re able to? I’ve heard it called a “successful launch.” At first I was aghast by the term. They’re teenagers not rocket ships. But now I get it. It’s a send-off into uncharted territory.
But fear not, big birds. An empty nest has it’s perks: less laundry, fewer dishes in the sink and carbs on the shopping list. We’re not in a perpetual rush any more. We don’t have to plan dinner around softball. We no longer have to stay awake at night until we hear the turn of a key in the door.
On a deeper level empty-nesting can be a second chance. An opportunity to cross things off what is now a mile-long to-do list, an occasion to indulge ourself in something that’s merely been a fantasy since the day we became a parent. The screenplay, the book, the blog, the acting class, the trip, Pro-Tools, piano lessons. Perhaps the empty nest is not just an opportunity to launch your child but a chance to relaunch yourself as well.
We don’t have to have regrets to wonder who it was we were before we ”settled down.” Now’s our chance to get in touch with that girl. (Or guy.) Don’t you miss her?
Don't get me wrong...I wouldn’t exchange a minute of my mommy years with songwriting sessions I turned down, or didn’t get called for because I skewed...too mature. Feh. And even though the empty nest has it’s advantages I still stand in Layla’s bedroom and take in “the shrine” — artwork, nick-nacks, photographs and memories. The only thing that’s missing is her.
As a mother of an only child you’d think it would be easier to adjust. Not necessarily so. For parents of 2 or 3 the active care-giving years are stretched out over a longer period of time. But for the parents of an only, those years come and go so quickly. It’s like poof! So in a way it’s more shocking when it's over.
It took a while but then I was able to buy skinny jeans without the fear of being laughed at. I swam naked. I collected thoughts I hadn’t thoroughly collected in 18 years. I sat down to write songs again without anticipating being interrupted. And when muscle memory for pursuing big dreams finally returned, I wrote a book! Filling the empty nest with something other than birds isn’t better or worse. It’s just different and it can be rewarding if we make the most of it.
So go forth you “launchEES! Revel in the beginning of the rest of your life. You've earned it. (Text and FaceTime often. It takes the edge off.)
And all you launchERS out there — I wish you a willingness to be game — to try new things. It’s going to be oK. Come home from “the drop” and have yourself a good cry. A stiff drink. Smell his pillow. Lay on her bed. Stand in the stillness of their bedroom and ask yourself what happened. Do it all. And then dust yourself off and get busy. It’s time for liftoff.
My daughter and her friends and their favorite weekend pass time. Beer Pong. "Good times never seemed so good." I'll say!