“This must be what an amputation feels like.” That is the only thing I could think of to say as my husband and I walked through the parking lot in the dark toward our truck. We had just left our only child in the lobby of her freshman dorm, and had spent all summer preparing for this day. Well, really the last eighteen years preparing. But NOTHING equips you for the flood of emotions that washes over you when you actually have to untether yourself from your child. One of my girlfriends has said it’s as though a piece of your soul breaks off into your child. I’m pretty sure I physically FELT that happening.
Move-in Day had been a whirlwind of activity, and 109 degrees. Really? You’re already a mess on the inside, and then nature sees to it that you are also in a constant state of inelegance on the outside too? That’s just wrong. We had spent the day working on her dorm room, trying to make it comfortable and cozy. My husband was the pack mule, hauling stuff up the elevator all day like so many other dads. My daughter and I were in charge of trying to make the room a place she would want to live for the next nine months. Thankfully, her roommate had moved in a few days earlier, so there was only chaos in half of the room. I can’t imagine if they had both been trying to move in at the same time. I still am in awe that it can take that much time, effort, and money to outfit half a room. But I think we did it, and the room was lovely.
So here we were. My mind was racing. How much should I cry? I didn’t want to embarrass her by causing a scene in the lobby by wailing and sobbing. But I also thought I needed to cry SOME because I wanted her to know we would miss her. Did I teach her enough life skills to do this on her own? Over the years, I had taught her how to study, do laundry, manage her money, make a killer risotto, and how to grocery shop. Was it enough? Does she drive well enough to navigate her way in a different state? When you think about it, they’ve only been driving a couple of years when they leave for college. Will she eat properly? What if someone is mean to her? What if…I finally had to just stop because it was over. Whatever I had taught her would have to be enough. So I tried to cry just the right amount, hugged her, and managed to say, “I KNOW you can do this.”
The real crying came as we walked through the parking lot without her, and I posed the amputation metaphor. My husband bought an ice cream cone for me on the way back to the hotel, and I cried the whole time while I ate it, which is a really weird sensation. I’m not sure I’ve ever cried while eating ice cream before. I managed to compose myself after we got settled back in the room. I was shaky but okay as we called our daughter the next morning to tell her we were starting the long eight hour drive back home. Eight hours. How would I ever be okay with her being eight hours away? The drive home wasn’t too awful, but it all broke loose again when I walked in the house, where the life force had shifted. We were down one team member, and we would have to recalibrate. I passed through her bathroom and teared up as I looked at the countertop, devoid of her multitude of mascaras and ponytail holders. Then it was little things, like pulling out three napkins and sets of silverware for a meal, realizing I now only needed two. Or automatically reaching for her favorite sweet tea at the store, realizing I didn’t need to buy it. This was going to take a while.
As we had approached this time in our lives, I grew weary of hearing, “What are you going to DO once she’s gone?” “You’re going to have a rough time. I’m not sure you’re going to do well with this.” And these comments came from friends. That’s when I decided I didn’t like the term “empty nest.” Our nest wasn’t empty. My husband is still in it. I’m still in it. Our crazy little dog is still here. It’s not empty. Just changed. That’s when I decided I would be a FULL nester, and would go about filling mine with meaningful experiences. I confess part of my motivation was to spite those who were watching me like a hawk, waiting for me to crack. Most of my motivation came from wanting to do something interesting in this new phase in my life.
So I started this site because I know I can’t be the only one at this juncture in life. In the short time I’ve been in this new place, I started my own business, bought a golf cart, lowered my cholesterol, took up yoga and Pilates, changed up my entire skin care regimen, started making my own yogurt, found out I like Fireball Whiskey (Hot Tamales in liquid form!), tried out some fun new gadgets for my home, and found out my husband and I still do have things in common and stuff to talk about. And mostly, I gradually came to the realization that it’s all in the approach. Choosing to push forward and redefine yourself makes a huge difference. So if you are in this same place in your life, or you know it’s coming, or you’ve made it out to the other side, I hope you’ll join me and check back each week so we can share our collective wisdom. Here’s to full nests!
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