When my daughter left for college, to take that step of defining herself and growing, I, too, started to find more of myself that had been hidden.
A week ago Saturday, on the 17th, I followed my 18-year-old daughter – my baby, my youngest, the last one still at home – to her new home, a college dorm two hours away. We unloaded the two cars, started putting her side of her room together, ran a few errands on campus and had lunch. I think we both were moving slower than we normally would, trying to put off the inevitable – the time I’d have to get in my car and head home without her.
As much as I’d proclaimed my excitement for her next step, as excited as I was for her to start college and begin truly defining herself, I dreaded that moment. I dreaded that moment like I’d never dreaded anything before. My son, three years older than his sister, graduated and went to college, too. There was some “mom sadness” when that happened, but he went to a nearby community college and commuted from home to save money. While he was growing up and defining himself, I still got to cook him dinner at night and yell at him for leaving his dirty socks in the living room.
This is different. This is my little girl, the second of the two to “leave the nest” and begin Step 2. And this time I was left home alone.
We hugged. A lot. And we said goodbye. A lot. And then she walked off back to her dorm and I started the car to begin driving home.
And I cried. A lot. I don’t mean I sniffled here and there on the way home – I bawled, I sobbed, I went through a handful of Kleenex at 75 mph on the interstate. I stopped the tears and popped in to see my parents – and the tears started up again. They had subsided by the time I left and I made the remaining drive tear-free – but at dinner when I was asked, “How did it go?” I could feel the tears threatening again.
There was some sadness in those tears, sure, but it wasn’t a sadness that I hoped I could stop. It was the sadness that comes with the end or the change of anything you’ve known for a while – I’ll always be mom, always, and I’ll always be there with the Band-Aids at the ready, armed with bug spray and antibiotic ointment for those cuts and scrapes – but now they’re both well on their way to creating their own adventures, writing their own stories and living their own lives. It’s an amazing, beautiful, fabulous, sad time.
The tears have long since stopped – I think I gave myself the one day and part of the next – but I am far from being “well-adjusted into the empty nest.” Now comes the random silliness: I still find myself moving quietly in the morning as I get ready for work so as not to wake the sleeping Kimberly. Twice I’ve started writing text messages asking her to do some random chore at home – stopping once I’ve realized she’s not there. I’ve even caught myself thinking I’ll just put off unloading the dishwasher and ask her to do it – then realizing I’ll be without clean dishes long before she gets home to put them away. I’ve been eternally guilty of asking Justin to help take the dogs out, regardless of the fact that he moved out 18 months ago. Of course, his apartment is just a few feet from mine, so it’s easier to forget – although there are stretches that I don’t see him for several days, despite the fact that our cars are in the same small parking lot.
There’s a part of my brain that is still holding on to the idea that this new living arrangement is temporary – that they’re just out at camp and will be home later. But I know this is my – our – new reality, and I truly am happy for them. And for me, because now I get a ringside seat to all of their adventures.