This feeling of unease, of impending change, is not so unfamiliar anymore. I first became aware of it when my older child, Claire, left for college in 2009. But I had a welcome consolation; after several months of living in a fog in the wake of Claire’s departure, my relationship with my younger daughter, Hannah, began to flourish, morphing into the special attachment we share today.
Three years have raced by. Now it is Hannah who has been released from the protective wings of home. She has joined her sister at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
I have been seeking comfort and commiseration among friends, sometimes even strangers, who have experienced—survived?—the proverbial empty nest. One acquaintance, the mother of two grown boys, told me, “The empty nest is really not so bad.” As the mother of daughters, I thought, “It’s not the same.”
My best friend’s youngest daughter also left for college this fall. Instead of an empty nest, she was left with an empty house because she’s divorced. I get to keep my beloved husband around, not to mention the family dog.
For a multitude of reasons—seeing eye-to-eye with my husband on childrearing; access to good, sound early education; grandparents; wiring—I am very close to my girls. I never pursued the goal of being friends with them, but it turns out that this is the direction in which we are headed. Claire is 21, Hannah is 18, and all of the sudden, years of discipline and guidance and being the all-knowing mother have shifted to endless conversations and debates and learning a thing or two (or three) from two young women who have a pretty wise grasp of the world.
When she was still in high school, Hannah developed the habit of informing me when she reached her destination, whether she was headed to a friend’s house or to the mall. It used to be a prerequisite for going out, but then she elected on her own to update me on her safe arrivals. A few months ago, while I was running errands, she sent me this text when she got home from school: “Baby bird has reached the nest.” It brought me to tears.
My heart will experience muscle memory when Hannah leaves. It will contract in familiar sadness and loss, but it also will expand in the lifting fog and with the pride of watching my girls’ experiences and accomplishments away from the nest. It is a bonus that the girls are together at NAU, with big sister Claire available for reassurance or just plain fun.
Maybe our nest won’t be so empty after all. We parents will stay behind to keep it feathered and fluffy, ready for the baby birds to return and alight…before it is their time to fly away again.