Friday, August 29, 2008

When They Leave the Nest

Hi, All! I’m back to blog here and so happy to do so! I thought I’d write about what is on my mind these days of soon-to-be fall. Things seem to happen in fall, even though most of us don’t have to go back to school any more. My fourth romance Intimate Beings will be published in October, which is exciting, and I am actually back at my college teaching. No leaves have fallen yet, but I feel that change in the air, the hope and optimism that things will change and be better. I always felt that way as a child—maybe, I would think, this school year I will get good grades! Maybe this year I will figure out math!
But for adults, I’ve noticed fall means different things, and for many of us right now, it means our children are going to college, flying the coop, leaving the nest.

Yesterday at work, a good friend and colleague casually mentioned that she was taking her son to college the next day, driving him down to Southern California and doing the parent dorm move in weekend thing. She looked down, arranged her books in her arms, looked up, trying to hold in the tears and succeeding. The space around us seemed to quiet. If I had said one thing about a quiet house or empty bedroom, we would have been sobbing together in her office.

I said, “It’s going to be exciting.”

She looked at me as if I were crazy.

“I mean, for your son,” I said, but really, I meant for her, too. She just wasn’t ready to see that yet. Maybe it will take her longer than it took me to find the joy in not being a daily parent. But in the empty space things can happen. Life could happen. It just didn’t seem that that to her yet.
I had my children at an early age, when I was physically but not truly psychically ready to have them. We were also always broke. When they were little and my former spouse and I were living on first one and the two teacher's salaries, I took them to every free event in the Bay Area to make sure we got out of the house. I can still recount the free days at the Oakland Museum and the San Francisco Zoo. We bought summer park passes to the Knowland Zoo. We went to all the public pools. I know by heart all the parks in the greater Bay Area. Back then as I was packing up my VW Van for the day with bagged lunches and juice boxes and sand toys and sweaters, I could only imagine a day when they would be out of the house and not my total and utter responsibility. What would the day be like where I could go to the bathroom by myself or make a meal for myself and then sit and eat it while reading the newspaper? What would it be like to not have to pour sand out of my shoe every evening?

Back then, sleep was something that was always interrupted (though please, let's not talk about peri-menopause and sleep issues here) and the day all about keeping them occupied and making meals. Every single day was about driving to or from preschool and then grade school and the various lessons they had through the years--tumbling, ceramics, basketball, drawing, clarinet, aikido, drama. It was about the worries and vicissitudes of adolescence and driver's training and getting into colleges.

And then they were gone. Poof!

And then they were gone and I had to figure out who I was without them.

Now, I miss them. Some days, I’d pay anything to have to pour sand out of my shoe. As they grew older and became more of who they are, I grew used to the rhythms of our lives together. That life changed when I left my husband, but I am still accustomed to the way they fit in along with me. I can picture Alexander out on a deck of one of the houses we and I have lived in reading a book. Nicolas is out there with him, too, both with their shirts off, getting some sun. I can hear them laughing at a movie they are watching. I can hear the clomp, clomp, clomp of Nicolas’ heavy boots on the wood floor. I can hear them talking in their rooms to their girlfriends, the slow, steady murmur of love talk.

I can see Nicolas rehearsing a part from a play in the living room of my second small apartment. I can see them both as they drive away, toward home.

As they grew older, I had to do less daily maintenance on a physical level and became more important emotionally. They needed to talk, and I was there. They had troubles, I could help. But I could sleep and I didn’t have to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches except for my self.

I miss the peanut butter and jelly sandwich life sometimes, wishing I could go back in and be a better mother. I made so many mistakes, pretty much all the time. My mothering life is a string of mistakes, corrections, further mistakes, more corrections. I wish I hadn't worried so much about things that weren't important (traffic and schedules and who took what class when and who would drive them there). Wishing I'd listened more. Wishing I'd slowed down. I know I did my best, working one then two then three jobs (writing being one of them). Between the two of us, my former spouse and I were able to pick them up after school and spend time with them. We ate dinners together and watched television together. I helped with homework. We traveled all around the world during the summers, and yet, I have regrets.

And here's the deal. You know your children are really gone when they have attachments to a place not home. This past holiday, my youngest insisted on leaving for "home" early because of his girlfriend. He missed her. She was back home. My oldest has a home too, a home not here. They have lives and people and jobs and activities that aren't where their father and I are at all.
The good news for me is that I have a home, too. I have the job and activities and life that continues to keep me busy, but as my boys are adding to their lives, bringing in more, pieces of mine are falling away.

I guess that's what happens. We build and then let it go, a bit at a time.

So if I could go back to me, that young mother, I would tell her this, and she wouldn't be able to do much differently. But I think she could look around, take in those beautiful boys, and know that it was temporal, ephemeral, soon to end. She could hold them and touch them and know that never again would it really be like this. That it was a blessing, the best blessing that this human life has to offer, no matter how many of us are crowding the planet.

Here I sit writing, pictures of my boys all around me, and I want to tell them thank you.

Have you had to deal with the letting go of the old life and moving into your own? Do you have any advice for my friend? I am sure she is sick of mine.


Donna Alward said...

No advice, but now I'm a blubbering mess! :-)

jessica said...

Oh! It is sad, but I truly didn't mean to make you a blubbering mess (or maybe I did--sometimes, the writer in me gets carried away). Thank you for reading.



Estella said...

I didn't have a problem letting go. Both boys joined the Navy right out of high school and the two girls live close by with their families.

jessica said...

I didn't really have a hard time, but they aren't in my daily life any more. I think that's good for them and for me, really, as we did have that together time for so long.

I have had friends who have been sad for months after their children left, and I don't know quite how to handle it as I think it is a very good thing, really. Life, you know?


Pat Cochran said...

No advice, because after the last of
our chicks left the nest, I was
doing childcare for the children of
our older chicks. I didn't have to deal with an empty nest for many,
many years. By that time, I was
ready for some Honey and I time and
had accepted that our chicks had
moved on in their lives. God bless them, that 's the way it is supposed to be!

Pat Cochran

Aideen said...

No advice at all I'm afraid.
As my four boys are all under 12 years of age I'm going to have them around a while longer.
And after reading your post I say; Thank God. I don't dread the day that will see them make their own way but I realise a certain loneliness must surely accompany it.
I'm a stay at home mother, I took a career break five years ago and still can't find the heart to go back. But there are definitely days where I wonder who exactly I am anymore. Being a mother four times over and being someone's wife seems occassionally to rob me of my identity.
I can admit to looking forward to the future where I can read all day if I want, and not have to worry about football runs, guitar lessons, art classes, making a meal for six!!
But for now, especially after reading your beautifully written piece I think I'm going to just go and hang out with my boys. Maybe see if I can steal a few precious hugs and kisses.

With gratitude,

jessica said...

Aideen--Hug your boys for me, too! I think that is what we need to do when we can actually remember to be in the moment. I know it's a cliche, but it seems to be right. There is no going back, so wonderful that you are staying in your actual moments. Your life will be there when your boys do finally leave.

Pat--You do have a seemingly endless suppy of chicks! How wonderful for you. I'd love a grandchild or two or three, but I'm hoping all that happens when they are ready for it. I will be ready, that's for sure.



Michele L. said...

I wasn't able to have kids so I haven't experienced the empty nest feeling. Although, when I married and left home, I went through a period of adjustment. It took some getting used to not living with my parents anymore. That is when I really grew up and realized how much my parents did for me.

I have been married for 23 years now but I can still remember the day that I grew up and became an adult!

Michele L.

jessica said...

Hi, Michelle.

I suppose it is the same thing--but reverse. You just have to put yourself in your parents' shoes, and I bet it's not that hard to do.

someone is always growing up and leaving! And that really is a good thing.