Today was the first day of Baby Girl’s senior year in high school. And just like in kindergarten, I held a brave face, smiled and waved with excitement as she left. Then I burst into tears and crumpled into my husband’s arms as soon as she was out of sight.
Why is it that children growing up and leaving you can sometimes feel worse than a bad teenage breakup? That kind of breakup where, when it’s happening, you know the person breaking up with you feels sorry for you but as soon as you’re gone, is SO glad it’s over because they’ve already moved on from you.
Whenever I ask myself that question, I always flash on one of those inspirational posters in the office of the Ob/Gyn who delivered both my kids. You know those posters that are sometimes on the ceiling of the office in hopes of distracting you from various tools being inserted in places you’d rather not have them inserted? Thankfully, my doc never had a dangling cat with a “Hang in there Baby” poster but she did have one that has stuck with me for the last 21 years since I was a child-bearer. It was a lovely water color drawing of a heart and it said:
That says it all, doesn’t it?
Last week, I set that first piece of my heart up in his first apartment as he started his junior year in college, reminding me that he will most likely “never live with me again”. A knife in the heart with extra salt thrown on as I spent a small fortune on inflated rent, housewares and groceries to keep the runaway alive. At least when boys broke up with me, I didn’t have to support them financially. I could walk away and pretend they never existed.
Now, with barely any time to regroup, I sent Baby Girl off to finish her childhood with us. I had this same feeling three years ago when Baby Boy started his senior year. It’s like there’s a fast running time clock above her head, shouting at me, “Quick! Have you taught her everything? Is she a lady? Does she know how much you love her? Does she know you’d take a bullet/jump in front of a train/fight that mean old lady at the Mall of America who pushed her out of the way in the bathroom while school shopping for her? Does she know what to do if she gets in a car accident/gets stuck in a tornado/snowstorm/other natural disaster? Is she prepared to go out into the world a responsible, law-abiding, respectful citizen who won’t just put herself first but think of others as well? There’s only 11 months, 6 days, 13 hours, 33 minutes and 49 seconds left. Does she know?” It’s exhausting.
So I got into the app store and got a countdown app to Empty Nesterdom. I figured that this is happening. I can’t force my children to stay home, nor would I want to (well, I would like a time travel machine…). So instead of dreading it, I will attempt to embrace it. I will look forward to a clean house, life free of teenage drama, preparing smaller meals, a lonely dinner table, the quiet and much more time to write more books and the potential of a very sad house that I will need to make happy again.
I often wonder what I would do differently if I had a second chance with my children. That is a topic for a post in and of itself and I’ll definitely write it, but the one thing I will say here is I wouldn’t have wanted to speed it up. During those days of sibling rivalry gone wild, I wouldn’t have dreamt longingly for the empty nest because it sneaked (I unapologetically still refuse to say snuck) up on me and stole my children from me like a vicious coyote in the night. So this afternoon, when your kids, at any age, are destroying your house, fighting with each other, talking back to you, not liking what you made for dinner or are giving you that look that made your mother say, “I’m going to slap that look right off of your face!” remember, they’ll be gone in a blink of an eye and you’ll be left crying like a jilted teenager. Give them a squeeze and tell yourself, “This too shall pass.”
Because it will, all too fast.