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The Season of Tears

It’s the season of tears. That time of year when middle-aged men and women make their way to college campuses around the country, with one of their biggest accomplishments in life in tow–offspring who are ready to leave the nest.

It is an act of love and faith, to leave your child in a strange place, when you’ve been responsible for feeding, clothing, and nurturing them for the last 18 years.  A friend’s text said it all: “I hope his roommate turns out to be a good guy.” Indeed.

For many kids, freedom could not have come soon enough. But for the mothers, and maybe even some of the fathers, drop off day is a day of fighting back tears. We worry that our kids will not have everything they need to be self-sufficient.  We wonder if they will make friends and if so, if they’ll be nice friends. We hope that they are not feeling as bad as we are.  Trust me. They are not.

It’s been several years since my sons first went off to college.  My husband ended up taking each boy to school that first year, without me.  It seemed less painful to say my good-byes on the front porch, rather than a long, drawn out separation on a college campus.  As one friend said, “I think they kick us off campus at 7pm.”

The first year without your son or daughter at home is a bit like living in a monastery.  It’s hard to get used to the quiet.  The food bills go way down. You have more time to yourself than what you know what to do with.

Even if you have other kids at home, you still feel the absence of the ones who are not at home.  When my older son went away to college, I missed seeing his shoes. I felt the void of the empty chair at the dinner table. And the loads of laundry were so much smaller without his many t-shirts. Sure, there’s texting and Skype video calls. And yet, it’s not the same as living under the same roof.

I became an accidental baker, sending homemade brownies and cookies every few weeks as a way to ensure that I still had sons and I was still their mother.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder. I remember the anticipation and subsequent joy of my sons coming home for Christmas break.  For a few weeks, I savored the illusion that time had stood still, with the liveliness of a full nest.

The transition to empty nester is a long one. Looking back, I can see how my boys blossomed into confident young men over the course of a few years. With each visit home, I could see the scales tip from our house as anchor to some other place they had chosen as their home base.  I could see their world expanding–what they were interested in, who they called friends, how they spent their time.

My husband has always been clear that our job was to prepare them for an independent life on their own. He explained to our sons that they needed to go into the the world and seek their destiny.  That reassured me that the sadness created by their absence would turn into something really good.

Both of our sons are now in their first year of working full-time, after graduating from college. (One graduated a year early, the other took his time finding a job.  It is how each has approached life–one in a rush and one in no rush.) I have enjoyed seeing how they are making a life of their own.

Their old bedrooms have been turned into guest rooms. I like having extra room for family and friends to visit. It’s nice having a bathroom that doesn’t get dirty so quickly. The carpet stays relatively clean.

My husband and I like making the food we want to eat, without having to accommodate finicky palates. We like feeling confident that if we don’t finish that peach pie or chocolate ice cream tonight, it will still be there in the morning.

As my younger son, Andy, prepares to move from Colorado to California for his job, I am anticipating tears. But these are tears of gratitude, for the fine young man he has become.   As he moves to a new part of the country, I am glad that he will have another adventure. It’s in his blood to be an adventurer.

My older son, Casey, lives 15 minutes away, in Boulder.  The short drive is deceiving, because it doesn’t speak to how far the journey has been.  When one of Casey’s younger cousins who is in high school visited recently, he remarked how Casey looked all grown up.  Casey replied, “That’s because I am grown up.”  ‘Nuf said.

When my sons visit, they truly are visitors. They come…and they go, with a warm smile and a “thanks for the the meal” good-bye.  Which says to me that they have found a place in the world to call their own, on their own.  That’s just about the best thing that any parent could hope for.

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