On Becoming an Empty Nester Part 2: Pass the Tissues

I have two adult children.  It sounds so weird when I say it out loud.  For some reason, in my mind college wasn’t that long ago, when in reality, that time period was well over 20 years ago.  My husband and I have been married for 22 years, our oldest child is 20 and her sister is 18.  Time flies.  We went from first day of kindergarten to first day of college in the blink of an eye.

I guess I’m one of those weird moms who doesn’t get all emotional at these transitions. I didn’t cry when they got on the bus for the first time, armed with a nap mat and a backpack nearly as big as they were.  I didn’t cry at elementary school graduation, the first day of middle school, or the first day of high school.  I didn’t even cry at high school graduation.  I did get a little teary eyed, but that was when they called the name of a young man who passed away and should have been graduation.  I think the entire auditorium teared up at that.  I’ve always been excited for them to reach the next stage in their lives.  Sometimes the next stage was a bit scary, like when each of them became licensed drivers, but even then I was excited that they got to drive themselves around and experience the freedom of going wherever they wanted…within reason, of course.

I DID cry when we left our first child at college.  It was a sweltering hot day in Georgia, and her dorm room was on the 4th floor.  With no elevator.  We lugged boxes, and bins, and a mini fridge up those stairs for what seemed like an eternity.  I think I lost a couple pounds that day just sweating.  Her dad put things together and hung stuff, while I went off to the store to get supplies we had forgotten and some food.  We took pictures, went out to lunch, then dropped her off back at the dorm for a “mandatory resident meeting.”  This is the point at which reality set in and she started crying.  We did what we did when they were little and we had to drop them off at daycare:  a hug, an “I love you,” another hug, then leave.  Prolonging the good-byes only makes it harder on them and you.  Then we got in the car and left and I cried for a good 10 miles.  Our baby girl had grown up and was officially out on her own.  Sort of.

As parents of college students can attest to, they come home for visits, text, call, ask for money, and still need us.  They aren’t really gone.  They’re still on the family payroll, they most likely still have a room at your house, and if not a room there certainly are boxes of their stuff stashed away.  So knowing what I now know, and being more “experienced” in this area, I wonder what it will be like when we move Child #2 into her apartment.  I have a gut feeling it will be a completely different experience, but no less emotional.

Child #2 isn’t going off to a college 3 hours away; she’s going to the university just down the road from us; it’s a 30 minute drive.  She isn’t moving into a dorm with all the other freshmen, she’s moving into a 2 bedroom 2 bath furnished apartment with her best friend.  The move-in process will be the same (except I’m really hoping for an elevator) but there will be no RA’s in charge of the floors, no shared community bathrooms, no “mandatory resident meetings.”  This child has been independent for a few years now, coming and going from our home to work and class without being told to do anything.  She attended her entire senior year at the local community college earning both high school and college credit, so it’s sort of like she’s been in college already.  That doesn’t diminish the fact that this is her, moving out, for real.  Oh, I still expect texts for money, calls for explanations on stuff like insurance or credit, and weekends home to get some peace and quiet.  But for the most part she will be gone.  And I will still probably cry on the way back home.

Looking back, I’m trying to remember what the exact feeling was; what was it that made me cry?  I wasn’t afraid for her, I was in fact excited for her.  I knew she was going to make new friends, and have new experiences and enjoy her classes.  I think I was sad about leaving behind this stage of our lives and entering a new world. I was sad knowing that Child #1 had finally grown up, after all the trials and tribulations of parenting for 18 years, our job was (nearly) done:  we produced an independent adult who can fly on her own.  I think the feelings of leaving Child #2 will be quite different.  I already know that the childhood stage is gone, and that she is an independent adult who can navigate the roads of life without us.  I think instead my sadness will be more like fear – fear that the tough roads ahead will frustrate her, that her heart may be broken by some stupid guy, and that she won’t truly believe in herself like we believe in her.  But we shall see; move-in day is just 2 ½ weeks away.

There are a few things that I won’t be sad about, like coming home to a quiet house without endless episodes of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the TV.  There won’t be piles of clean clothes (or are they dirty?)  on the floor in front of the laundry room.  My kitchen will always be clean.  In the big scheme of things, however, these minor annoyances are nothing compared to the love of a child – whether they are 5 or 25 – and the rollercoaster of emotions that comes along with them.

Empty Nest: What’s Next?: Parenting Adult Children Without Losing Your Mind

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