An Almost Empty-Nester
I would hold my babies all the time when they were babies. Rock them. Inhale all the wispy hairs on their scalp, wonder at the tininess of their toes. My throat would lump up and catch when their miniature finger clutched mine. The other mother’s would admonish me, “Don’t hold your baby so much or it’ll spoil them.” I would hesitate. Maybe put my baby down for just a minute. I was still a teenager myself and had not one clue about what I was doing.
But it wouldn’t last long. The need was too big. It would grow in my belly where they used to live and propel me to scoop them back up and snuggle to my chest. And I would think, “How can you ever hold a baby too much?”
My babies are almost all grown now. Just one is left at home. My boy. My manchild. Sometimes when I look at him I can see him when he was five. The facial expressions are identical; they just have a beard now. I see the same eagerness when he asks me to watch his recently edited YouTube videos as when he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the Lego castle he built. His laugh is deeper, but his eyes glow the same light.
He is a senior in high school this year and soon he will leave. Thinking about this too long squeezes the oxygen out of my heart.
He was eleven when his oldest sister left. Bre graduated at 17 and went into the Coast Guard. It had been her plan almost her entire high school experience and I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. I kept a brave face. I smiled and cheered her on but letting her go filled me with fear. How could I protect her when she’s so far away?
When we dropped her off at the station she would live at for the next few years, tears ran down my face faster than I could blink. Eventually I stopped trying to wipe them away and simply
I prayed the whole time she would not.
I watched her walk away from us, down the hall to her room. She did not look back. Maybe she was as afraid as I was, that if she did, I would run to her and grip her close, never letting her go.
My mind struggled.
Is she crying? Will her roommate be nice to her? Will she write in her journal? Who will be her friend? What if she gets sick, gets hurt, wants to come home? Will she call me? Who is going to make sure she is ok? Who will hug her? Laugh at her stories? Who will tell her, “You did so great today!”? Will the boys be jerk faces? Will she change? Will she become hard? Did I teach her enough? Did I teach her to be strong, and be kind, and be brave?
And also, who am I without her? She made me a mommy. All of me s t r e t c h e d inside as I learned to love her from afar.
He was fifteen when his sister, Sammi, left. She didn’t go far. Still in our home city but a good 40 minutes away. She got a job and went to school and lived in an apartment with five other girls. You would think this would make a difference, her nearness, put me at ease.
In some ways, it was harder. How do I give her space when she is so close? How do I open my hand and let go when I can still reach her with my fingertips? What is my place inside her life?
My mind wrestled.
Is she scared? Will her roommates be nice to her? Will she get home ok after she parks her truck on the street and walks alone to the apartment? In the dark! Does she need a new pepper spray? Will she have a boyfriend? Is she ready for a boyfriend? What if she gets sick, gets hurt, wants to come home? Will she call me? Can she handle this work load? Is she worried about bills? Did I teach her to be strong, and be kind, and be brave? Did I teach her enough?
And I s t r e t c h e d again as I learned to let her live.
Jacob will leave soon. The sadness I feel holds my hand, a constant pressure of its presence. I try not to let it take hold too hard because I don’t want the laughter of RIGHT NOW to become muffled. But sometimes when I am alone in my kitchen, or driving to work, I allow the presence to sit with me. Hopefully it is the same days I forget to put on mascara because I let myself feel it all is I cry. And I pray in a quiet panic, “Don’t let this world change my boy. Don’t let it bury his goodness and his spirit. Don’t let it hurt him God.” And because I know hurts are inevitable, I modify my request. “Don’t let it hurt him in a forever way.”
The panic I feel with Jacob is new. I wonder, what happens now? Who will I be with all my kids gone?
I will miss the, “MOM!” being yelled from another room, along with the, “Will you kill the spider PLEASE?” that comes with it. I will miss the “Ohhhh, WHAT?” and “Ok. Go Go GO!” of BOYS playing video games in my living room until 2am.
I won’t miss the smell of boys’ feet and the littering of Cheetos bags and Mountain Dew cans.
At this point in my life, most of my circle are nowhere near this stage with their own children. I had my kids young enough to get weird looks and lots of judgement. Now I am old with older kids. My friends are still enjoying the adorableness of the toddler and kindergarten stage, when being the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus and the Monster Slayer is the highlight of LIFE.
Well, other than an early bedtime and glass of wine (or a Twisted Pretzel beer if you’re like me).
Soon, all my nights will look like this. Wide open and silent. If I stare too hard into what’s coming, I think it may swallow me.
This is what I’ve learned from the girls being gone.
They don’t call as much as I’d like them too. I don’t see them as often as I want. I don’t always know if they are ok. They will text when they get home if I know they are going to a specific event and I specifically ask them too, otherwise, the silent phone reminds me check-ins are no longer required. They buy their own medicine, stop asking for help with taxes, rent their own apartments, buy their own houses, and eventually get married and make me a grandma. In other words, they are busy living their life; being the strong, kind, brave people we’ve raised them to be.
It’s a mixed bag of emotions. Or rather, a FULL array of blessing, that takes some getting used to.
Here’s what else I’ve learned:
You become your kids’ friend in a way you never thought possible. Before; everything was a haggle to get home work done or a room cleaned. It was bartering for an empty dishwasher in return for a sleepover. Now, THEY WANT TO TALK TO YOU JUST FOR THE HECK OF IT. This is pretty awesome.
They will tell embarrassing stories and laugh with you in a new way, a different way; grown up sprinkled with CHILD, and it will make your heart thump as hard as it did when they showed you the pictures they drew on their first day of preschool.
You still get to watch them grow.
This realization lightens your heart, makes it bounce like a happy balloon at a lifelong party.
You didn’t know about this.
It is a new turn in the prism of parenting.
One in which we see the fruits of our labors. We see them face their problem with shaky hands and a voice to match, but we can cheer for them when they overcome it, triumphant and proud. They practically preen, Did you see that? I’m adulting!
We also watch them fall. Scrape a knee. Hold on to a bruised heart.
And I’m not going to lie, the first thing you want to do is grab your cape, tie it on, and fly to their rescue, swooping in the way only the mothership can. But you mustn’t. Not right away. Maybe not at all. You have to put the cape DOWN. Bury it at the bottom of the laundry heap if you need to. Shove it in the cupboard with all that mismatched Tupperware.
We know we learn from pain and mistakes, right mamas? They must get this too.
You’ll listen to their struggles and their wounds. You’ll remind yourself to stay calm (every two seconds) and stay strong (every three). You can’t break now. You are a TREE. They need you to be their tree, rooted and solid and able to absorb all their tears. You get to cry your whole soul out after you hang up. It’ll feel like your very own heart has been slashed to bits, but we have to hold on and pray to Jesus who sees us all.
And He does see. He will carry them, mama. He will give them sturdy legs and a lighted path. It’s ok if they don’t know this is happening. We may not realize it either because we are so wrapped up in worry.
Grab your worry. Ball it up or shake it out, then lay it down. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken hold of my worry and placed it in a weepy heap at the feet of Jesus.
Here. Please take this. You know what to do.
And we will know we did the very best thing for them.
We raised them to be strong, to be kind, and to be brave.
You be brave too mama.
Now, do the next best thing.
Find your person. Not your husband person. Your mama-friend person.
She will be a good listener and a fabulous laugher.
She will know when to cry with you and when to haul you back up.
Her hand will hold yours and you will walk each other through.
It will require coffee shops and pedicures; texting and beer.
An occasional curse word will be exactly what is needed. She will know your favorite.
It is hard and lonely to go home when they have left, but it doesn’t have to be as hard or as lonely.
I’m rooting for you.
Please root for me.