Leaving the Nest
I am not the overdramatic type. I am steady and smooth, most of the time.
Only sometimes can I be like Miranda Lambert trying to hide her crazy after a breakup.
I take things in stride. My kids get fevers… I wait a few days before taking them to the doctor. This is good for their bodies to fight whatever infection is inside them. It is better in the long run for them to fight the infection inside them than for me to take away their immediate pain with Tylenol or antibiotics. I do not hover and do their homework for them. I may make sure they get it done, even though I may not be pleased with the outcome. They know my opinions, but they do their own work. I do not worry that a large mole on my daughter’s leg is cancerous, but we get it removed anyway. I do not relive every dream I never achieved as a child through my very talented gymnast daughter. I drop her off at the gym and pick her up 5 hours later. I attend her meets, but don’t get nervous for her. She’s nervous enough without a crazy mom. My son plays baseball but I don’t kiss up to the coaches to make sure he plays every inning. He can earn his own space on the playing field.
I let them out of my sight… but I know where they are… most of the time.
I do, however, get emotional at cotton commercials. I laugh out loud obnoxious at the Mom song on YouTube. I cry during grace at dinner. I pray for each of my kids earnestly in the hard times. At home I scream. I rant. I hug. I beg for affection from the one who does not hand out hugs so easily.
My oldest is going off to college in 13 days. In some ways, I can’t wait. He has become the one who gets up late, after my day is half over, who wants to talk late at night when I’m spent and want to sleep. His room is messy. His bathroom is less than clean.
We are driving to the beach tomorrow for one last week together as a whole family before he heads off to college. We are getting up early. We are packing tonight. Laundry has been going all day… and his is last in line. He slept all afternoon instead of packing and laundry and doing his chores. After dinner he asks to go out with his friends.
I hit the roof.
His first day of Kindergarten he was so nervous that he vomited up his breakfast. He thought he was sick and couldn’t go to school. I did not keep him home. We walked to school with my best friend and her oldest daughter who was also going to her first day of kindergarten. We held it together as we waved goodbye to the little bodies with their oversize backpacks and clean new sneakers. We held it together on the walk home pushing the babies in the stroller, pretending like it was any ordinary walk home. It wasn’t until I got in the house and my retired neighbor called and asked how the first day of school went that I completely lost it… I cried like a baby sending my oldest off to Kindergarten.
But then three more babies came along – I am sure I cried when my second one went. Really don’t remember the third. By the time the fourth one got on the bus, I was skipping joyfully home to at last breathe my own oxygen for the first time in a decade.
So I’ve been breathing my own air now… a little at a time. More so when he goes off to the university he’s dreamed about since he was in elementary school. I am so proud of him. He worked hard in high school. He had fun – he played in the band, he marched at football games we all attended. Every Friday night in autumn we had family night at the football field. In Spring all his little sisters cheered for him to take his turn at bat. He came home, did his homework, earned high grades, chose good friends, helped out around the house, never caused trouble. Got up for church every Sunday.
And in 13 days he goes off to college. He’s leaving. He will never be a full-time part of our household again. He is stepping off the edge of the nest and he’s opening his wings to fly on his own. And as cool and calm and collected as I’ve always been as a mom (not a worrier, not a helicopter mom, involved, but not too much) I am a total wreck.
I am flashing back to the entire year spent trying to conceive him. How every month, somehow I failed. Then when I forgot about it, suddenly he was there. How I kept exercising even when pregnant. His dad told me to stop doing sit ups because the baby might come out flat. How I kept playing softball on the church team and the church secretary yelled at me for stealing second. How he came five weeks early – a very long, hard birth. Hard on him – blue and bruised with a flat nose from 2 hours of pushing. A week spent in NICU, but still the largest baby there. The doctors wanted to discharge me after two days. I’m not leaving without my baby, I said. I stayed in the hospital, renting a room, so I could try to nurse him, be with him, not leave him.
He was such an easy baby. Slept through the night early. Happy most of the time. Running. Chasing balls. Pleasant. Forgiving. Hopeful. Pliable, even when his father and I divorced. He adjusted to two households. He was like a duck, he may have been paddling like crazy underneath, but his feathers were never ruffled. He adjusted to the split, packed his bags each night accordingly. He never forgot anything he needed for the next two or three days. Then his father and I got on with our lives and remarried. He acquired two step parents, whom he loves and respects. And we begat girls, his four little sisters. That last one, oh, how he wished she would have been a brother. But 8 years later, we can’t imagine our lives without Nick and his four little sisters.
Tonight I throw a tantrum. “No, you can’t go out with your friends the day before we leave for the beach. You didn’t help around the house. You didn’t unload the dishwasher even though it was your turn and you slept all afternoon. You are not packed and we are leaving at 6 a.m. No way! You always think you can come and go as you please with no regard for us.”
I stomp off in a huff that quickly dissolves into uncontrollable sobbing that he can hear. I bounce my suitcase down the curved stair case, slamming it into the wall as I turn the corner in a blur. Out in the garage, I throw every bag into the back of the van, leaving room for the cooler I will pack tomorrow. His suitcase is at the bottom, still half-packed, knowing he will want to add to it later when his laundry is dry. But when? At 1 a.m. when he’s back from the movies with his friends and I’m fast asleep?
Alec comes out and I am still a sobbing mess. “Stop,” he says, taking my arms, gently, his big brown eyes pleading with me to come to my senses or at least explain. “It’s not about tonight,” I say. “It’s that he’s leaving in 13 days.” He nods, knowingly, as wonderful husbands do.
“Come inside and let’s pray.” We walk inside and my only son is sitting at the counter with tears in his eyes because I can’t hide my crazy. I make myself a new puddle of tears, killing myself that I’ve made him cry on the last night he can spend with his high school friends.
We pray. I become centered again. The strong mom. Together. Steady. Cool and calm.
And he goes off to meet his friends with tears still drying on his cheeks.
Isn’t that how you and I started college? How we all left the nest? Equipped, ready, but still sad.
Fly, my son. Fly.
It is your time. You are ready.
And so am I, almost.