Our youngest child moved out of the house this past weekend. She’s 21 and smart and capable, but it was all I could do to keep myself from grabbing her arm as she was leaving, and yelling “No, no, don’t go…you aren’t big enough to live on your own yet!”
I always thought becoming an empty nester would be cause for a party like in those Target and Staples commercials where all the parents are dancing and celebrating at the beginning of the school year. Yep, we did it…all the baby birds are ready to be independent and fly…and we are ready to have the house all to ourselves. I wasn’t prepared for the level of sadness I felt at the prospect of my last child really leaving.
I became a parent in January of 1987, and I’ve had children at home for 28 years. I didn’t rush into parenthood after I got married. If the truth be told, I was actually focused on finishing college and pretty ambivalent about being a parent.
For years, after I married in 1980, my grandmother would ask if we were going to start a family. Finally, after five or so years, she must have given up on the idea because she stopped asking. When I did finally become pregnant, she was very pleased by my news.
The first thing nobody told me was what pregnancy would do to my body…not to mention my mind and my heart. I actually took my pre-pregnancy jeans to the hospital to wear home two days after giving birth the first time. I was horrified when there was a good 6 inches of belly between the two open sides of the snap on my jeans. This left me with a decision…either wear the jeans home undone, or put on the maternity pants I wore to the hospital. I opted for the maternity pants (ouch) but I was prepared with stretchy waistbands to wear home from the hospital with my next two newborns!
Nobody told me how good my babies would smell. What causes that anyway? Is it God’s way of making us love them and want to hold them all the time?
I babysat for years, but I still wasn’t prepared for all the unknowns that came with parenthood. Why is he still crying if his diaper is dry and he’s been fed? What do we do now?
My husband said, “Don’t you know what to do?” To which I answered, (probably in descending pregnancy hormone tears) “Why don’t YOU know what to do?”
Thank God for both of our mothers, a good pediatrician, and Dr. Spock’s book. That crying baby’s a happy, well-adjusted adult now, so we must not have messed up too much.
You hear about “mama bear” and “papa bear” behavior, but you can’t really know until you experience the level of protectiveness and the infinite responsibility and love you feel toward that good smelling, screaming, pooping, and squirming little bundle in your arms. And NOTHING prepares you for the day your child is:
*Left at daycare or school with complete strangers for the first time.
*Going to their first overnight at a friend’s house where you don’t know the parents.
*Backing out of your driveway alone in a car for the first time.
*Dropped off at college to live on their own away from you.
*Moving out permanently.
As parents, we become so accustomed to continually accessing our children’s needs, moods, wants, and safety. That is our job or our other job if we have one outside the home too. Then, they grow up and leave and we are left to figure out what to do with all that pent up parental energy.
Which brings me back to the moment when my daughter was all packed up and preparing to leave for her new apartment. As I contemplated lying prostrate on the driveway behind her car, she hugged me and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m coming back to clean my room so I don’t leave a mess.”
She’s coming back tomorrow? To clean her room? Really?
Perhaps this will work out okay after all.