This morning while traveling home from dropping off my middle daughter at her apartment (she had just flown in from NYC), I heard Dennis Rainey on Family Life Today. He was interviewing several people and the topic was Empty Nest. I smiled, shook my head and looked up at the heavens (or actually at the interior top of my car, but hey, no boundaries with God, right?).
Just last night my baby girl (now almost 21 yrs. old) moved out on her own. I had gone through the oldest leaving for college and then getting married (almost 8 years ago now) and the middle daughter leaving home (twice). All amazingly difficult. But it had been a while and I had enjoyed knowing that "at least my baby girl is still with us." Last week was a jammed packed week and I honestly did not have time to think it through. Or perhaps, I purposefully pushed it out of my mind before the stark truth of it could seep into my heart and cause pain. For whatever reason, I was pretty much unprepared for what I experienced. Though we had been aware that she and her fiance were cleaning, decluttering, packing, and moving boxes to her apartment, it was not until the final load was piled up at our garage door that I chose to let it all sink it.
Doing what most parents do (most of the time) who love their children more than finding it necessary to vent every emotion to them, I breathed deeply and kept busy in the kitchen. When she came to give me a hug, I bravely gave her my most convincing smile and said, "Fly, baby girl, fly! I am so proud of you! But you know I will miss you." After they left with that last load, I prowled to the front door and slid quietly outside on the dark stoop. I watched them pack the car and then she backed out of the driveway. Thankful for darkness, I wiped tears as she honked her horn and I waved (I was hoping she wouldn't see me standing there but guess she was looking to see if I would be - she knows me pretty well).
Nothing else to do - but, as a counselor, do what I tell people to do in times of transition, change, sorrow, loss, or uncertainty. Face the feelings and let them have their moment. So I did. Breathless at times as I sat in the family room and looked around, I cried hard, softly, sobbing, sniveling, and sighing. My husband, unable to mimic my exact grieving process (how unmanly would that be!), went to bed to grieve in his own way.
Later when I went upstairs, I was resolved not to open her bedroom door and look in - but I couldn't resist. The perfectly clean, empty room almost took my breath away. My mind fluttered rapidly through memories of her high school years: the times she was sick and I would open that door to check on her. The times that she was struggling and oppressed, and I would sit outsider her door and pray. Memories: both good and bad (as is typical with raising a teenager) flooded my heart. And I let them.
After reading a couple of chapters of Jan Karon's newest book, I fell to sleep with a prayer for my baby girl to be able to wake up on her own the next morning - in time for work. This morning I had to pick up my middle daughter at the airport, so woke up early. After dropping her off at her apartment and listening to her talk about her trip, I was feeling productive and happy. Why?
While listening to Barbara Rainey describe the transitional phase of becoming an Empty Nester, she used the word "AMBIVALENCE". It's perfect. It's my new best 'word' friend. I will embrace the ups and downs of this new phase of my life. The feelings of sadness and sorrow jumble together with productivity, dreams, ambitions, and a sense of great accomplishment. After all, all three daughters are following God's leading in their lives and are contributing healthily to society. All praise to our Heavenly Father for His mercy and grace and strength!
Ambivalence. Running hot and cold. Of two minds. In a quandary. Vacillating. That's me. For now. I'm gonna embrace it.
Want more information about Barbara Rainey's new book on Empty Nesters, click here.