Monday, August 15, 2011

On The Empty Nest

For the past two weeks, I've been hearing from a lot of people who are suffering from a wee bit of the "empty nest" syndrome.  They are looking in the mirror and asking themselves where all of the years went.  How all of those platitudes of "it goes so fast..." were not only correct but are so difficult to really fathom....until you've driven one off to college and dropped him (or her) off.

You get the news one day that a little one is on the way and you count down every day and week until the big day.  You imagine to yourself what he or she will look like and you memorize the ultrasound photograph that you show to anyone and everyone who will look.  You plan and dream and prepare.  You touch the little outfits that sweet friends and family shower you with and you read books like "What To Expect When You're Expecting" and the "Baby Name Book" so much that you know that all of the horror stories that everyone insists on telling you are just a little bit exaggerated and you even consider naming your child something random like Zora.

Or not. 

One day, they put your little one in your arms, and you are content.  Granted, there is jaundice, breastfeeding, colic and teething to live through...but you do.  Likewise with toilet training, biting, and artistic expression on the walls.  Maybe you get a break on the sleeping...or perhaps you have a good eater...but somewhere along the'll get something that makes you question the sanity of whoever it was that approved your motherhood application...not to mention your own.

Perhaps your child was adopted after dealing with infertility or you just had a strong calling to love a child who didn't grow beneath your heart...but in it.  You may have had to travel overseas to bring your little one home...praying diligently that all of the paperwork was in order.  Other mothers had a nine month gestation period to prepare.  You may have been afforded one week.

A friend of mine had a week to prepare for her twins.  One of the twins had some potentially serious developmental issues.  She said "yes" anyway.  True story.  (With a happy ending.)

They grow up...learn their ABCs..."Jesus Loves Me" and decorate your refrigerator with pictures of dragons and butterflies and flowers.  They start school and lose those teeth that you suffered through getting in along with them. You are still the center of their universe.  This is really wonderful...but you may be too sleep deprived to actually appreciate it at the time.

Time passes...with hours on the bleachers and on various projects like constructing tabernacles out of popsicle sticks and Science Olympiad projects for which they win ribbons...and hopefully learn something.  They go through the awkward stages...braces...and then look forward to finishing up junior high.

Four years of high school fly by with us trying to teach them as much as we can as well as we can...because we know how high the stakes are in this game of life.  We want their faith to be real and be their own...and want their hearts guarded and unbroken.  They learn about disappointment and achievement, about perseverance and when to walk away.  They hug us less...but seem to listen to us at those times when it really, really matters.  The rest of the time we realize how close they are to the edge of the nest...and how strong those wings are becoming.

And one day they fly.  One minute they are walking across the stage with a cap and gown, and the next...they have packed all of their earthly belongings into a vehicle and are ready to move into their own space.  Even if that space is smaller than their room at home...and they are sharing that space with someone else.

We know it is coming...but it doesn't make it any easier.  We've given them the roots they need and have done everything we can to make it possible for them to soar as high as their God given abilities, talents, and determination can take them.  We stay involved...but understand that we cannot control every aspect of their lives anymore.  We will see them make mistakes...and we will have times when we are exasperated at how incredibly self-centered they really are at this age.  Actually, that's okay, you know.  They have to figure out who they are and how they are going to live in this world before they can take on the responsibilities that are going to be on their shoulders in four (or five...possibly six...) more years.

This is the last stop on the way to growing up.

There's a part of us that doesn't want them to grow up.  We want our little angels that thought we hung the moon.  We want to feel needed...and we don't realize fully just how much of who we are is wrapped up with our children.  But just as it took time for us to develop these patterns in the early, sleep deprived takes time to unwind them on the other end.  But it does eventually get easier.  One day, you'll actually think it is a bit of a relief when they head back to school so you can get back to your routine.

Trust me.

Just when you get used to them not being here...they come home and want to keep the same hours that they do at school.  You'll love that...

Or the telephone call that informs you that they've gotten yet another parking ticket on campus to the tune of $75...because it was raining. 

Perhaps it will be a speeding ticket on Highway 82 on the way back to Tuscaloosa.  Or the same day (another true story.)

They'll come home dressed in a baggy tee shirt, shorts, leggings and Ugg boots...and you'll be fairly convinced that they've lost their minds.  (Just so you know "Ugg" is short for "ugly" but is also apparently Australian for "comfortable and expensive.")

Or they'll overdraw their checking account to the tune of $35 because they had to have a $5 meal from Taco midnight.

They'll tell you stories that will make you want to say something parental...but you don't...because you'd rather know than not know what is going on.  Naturally, these stories are always about somebody else.

You'll go to Sorority Bid Day or any given home football game and see a bunch of kids "fratting it up" at 10:00 a.m. and you'll be a bit mortified. 

They'll fight with their roommates and call you to complain that someone has taken something out of the refrigerator/closet/car and ate it/trashed it/lost it.  Or they will live with someone who refuses to wash the dishes, clean up, or take out the garbage.  The best way to change a "messy" kid is to let him live with someone worse than he is.  He'll either become a neat freak, or you'll have to call an exterminator when it is time to move out.

The boys will find that there is a lot of low hanging fruit and the girls will learn that the boys couldn't care less about a serious relationship.  For a while, anyway...

And through all of will survive.  And they will grow up. 

You'll be proud of how they begin to handle their own business.  How they learn to appreciate all that you have sacrificed to give them the freedom to learn and grow at a place of their choosing.  And how much more intelligent you have suddenly grown while they've been away from home. 

It is an amazing transformation.

But are afraid to open the door to their room because you want to tell yourself that they are away at church camp or at a friend's house.  You don't know exactly what to do with yourself because this is virgin territory for you.  It is painful...and awkward...and awful.  Yet it is all mixed up with pride in their accomplishments and the joy that you are sharing with them at this point in time in their lives.  After all...they seem so happy, don't they?

And they are.  For now. 

In about six weeks, some of the blush will be off the rose.  They'll be exhausted from all of that freedom and all of that time in class.  They'll realize that they are in a big pond, relatively speaking.  They'll want your cooking...for you to do their laundry...and for the comfort of their own bed at home...under your roof.

Then once they've recovered...they'll pack up, get in the car, and head back into the fray...

It has been a wonderful ride, hasn't it?

Enjoy those football weekends and those pop-in visits that they'll make from time to time.  But above all...know that all of those seeds you've planted are turning into a beautiful harvest.  There will probably be a few weeds you'll have to eradicate...but you already know that they aren't perfect.  After know their parents REALLY well.

So enjoy this time.  Breathe.  Rejoice.  Carry on.  And just know that it won't be long before they'll be beginning their senior year. 

As they always say..."it goes so fast..."

And it does.  It really does.

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