Last month, my family loaded up a truck and two cars, then made an exhausting two-day journey to Austin, Texas. At age 23, my daughter, Elizabeth, was about to begin her adult life, along with her three best friends, in a new town far from “home.” She had been accepted to the University of Texas graduate program for art history, and soon won a professional fellowship.
After a rough “gap” year when none of the recent college grads had found their “dream job” or true direction, a few major changes seemed like a good idea. They jumped off the crazy hamster wheel that many of us have found ourselves treading: no longer children, but not living on their own as adults either, working temporary jobs without much potential. My daughter maintained her own apartment in college; now everything was in storage, and she was back in her small, pink bedroom. We were once more making her meals, my mother was doing her laundry, and we were all helping to pay her bills.
It was nice to have my “baby girl” back home every day, but yet also stressful for everyone. It was time for her to start life on her own, making decisions and taking on responsibilities – the tough stuff that accompanies freedom.
A month has passed since Elizabeth left. I didn’t cry until I saw the empty closet full of hangers. When she was in college, she had always left her off-season clothes behind – part of her was still here. Now everything is gone; it’s real for the first time.
That pink bedroom has no purpose now; it fills no specific category in our house plan. I have heard many people talk about the joy of converting those empty nests into many things: craft rooms, expanded closets, game rooms, offices, etc. And there are no grandchildren on the near horizon who could snuggle into it as their Grammy’s nursery. None of those concepts seems to fit right now. Elizabeth’s room is just an empty space in our home, and in my heart.
Would I feel this void as much if she had not moved so far away? I’m not sure. As with my own life experience, you have to move a certain distance in order to truly break the dependent bonds. I moved to North Carolina for 13 years, a day’s drive away from Pennsylvania. Texas is a very long two days by car, and a more complicated plane trip since Spirit airlines recently stopped their convenient flights from Latrobe to Dallas! (please, please bring them back!)
Sure, I will see my daughter on vacations and at Thanksgiving or Christmas, whether it’s in Pennsylvania or Texas. But she is gone from my everyday life, and that’s going to be a hard “habit” to break. I was 21 when she was born, and have lived every single day of my adult life with her as a primary concern and focus. I am equal parts regretful and afraid. There’s no more time to “do right by her” as a parent: making the perfect home, saving enough money or providing the best opportunities. My failures and successes as her mother have been measured. What do I do now?
Surely, I will dote on my cats, short of dressing them up in baby clothes. But now my full attention and resources will also be available for my son, Robert, who turns 16 in a few months. My relationship with him is completely different than with Elizabeth, and I am looking forward to growing it. He has never had me all to himself like his sister did for eight years, so this is another new beginning for us both.
A few weeks ago, we started looking at used cars because Driver’s Education will begin soon. It seems that time is layering ironic knots around my emotional hole – soon I will be giving Robert the keys to that car, turning him loose on roads that will eventually lead him away from me. But until that time comes, I plan to concentrate on my revised role as his mother, making his nest the best launching pad that I can.