Kim Tackett talks about the lessons of empty nest parenting. She’s the one learning lessons as she watches her college daughter grow and fly the nest. Read more from Kim on her blog, Fifty Fifty Vision
She’s 20, and attending university in another state, 500 miles away. The same exact number of miles I traveled for my own college experience thirty-seven years ago. Only half the miles her older sister traveled, but still, it’s far enough.
Her sister Kate is now in grad school, 2000 miles away. My daughters are playing leapfrog, using my heart as their springboard. They claim I raised them to do this, to be curious and intrepid. I say that might be so, but clearly I didn’t know what I was doing.
Alexandra is spending next year abroad. We bought the open-ended ticket yesterday. I keep searching for a word that describes my pride in her independence and the sliver of heartbreak I feel when I imagine a year without her.
5383 miles. That’s a long way for me to help her through decisions and disappointments. To guide her through the detours, and around the barriers that will inevitably show up. The tricky turns, the leaps that require faith and courage. I don’t know if Skype and Facetime will do it. Unlike Mrs. Incredible, I fear my arms aren’t long enough.
What will she do when she has to figure it out on her own? Without me? She’s always had an extraordinary sense of direction (we refer to her internal GPS as one of her superpowers), but this is big. She’s the only student from her school going to this country. She’s going alone.
Last year I missed the annual Mom’s Weekend at her university, and of course, we’ll miss the next one. At the very last minute I decided to fly up to join the others, and perhaps buy an Oregon State Mom shirt. No plans, just hang out and do whatever we felt like doing.
It was wonderful. Every single second of it. Well, maybe not the part where I was cleaning her room, but even that was kind of wonderful.
But what I didn’t expect, was getting a front row seat to how she made choices, especially the hard ones. It was a work vs. play decision, and she really wanted to play. I wanted her to play too… we all did. I watched her figure out her options, seek solutions, get the answer she wanted, and then instantly realize that this particular answer came with risky, and even unethical, consequences. For the record, she recognized it before I did. She immediately rectified it, and moved on. No play, just work. She didn’t complain, she just did what was right.
The entire transaction was quick, and I am certain no one else caught the significance. But as a mom, we’re always looking for signs. A sign that someone needs our help, and hopefully, a sign that someone is on the right path. A moment that lets us know we did our job, and we can step away and let them move forward.
I stayed back in her apartment while the others played. I folded her laundry and vacuumed her bedroom. When she came home from her job at 1:00 a.m., I was asleep in her bed. I said, “Hey, I vacuumed your rug.” She said, “I know, I can feel it.”
Then she crawled into bed with me. She pulled my arm to wrap around her waist, and didn’t complain about my snoring, or even elbow me to stop.
She’s going to be ok. I can feel it.