Learning To Live In An Empty Nest
I looked back at a column I wrote a couple of years ago and had a little chuckle. It was all about my fears as we took our son to his university for freshman year. Here’s what I wrote about settling him into his dorm in West Virginia:
“The first day I texted him about five times until he ordered me to stop. His cease-and-desist text sounded grumpy, so I did.
But it was hard.
The next day was better. I waited until afternoon to call. He’d had a stressful and confusing day trying to figure things out, so he sounded glad to hear from me. But after a few minutes he announced he had to go to dinner.
I took the hint.
The third day we swung by to drop off a couple of items I was sure he’d need. He was happy to get the stuff, but after just a few minutes of chatting (while I scoped out the messiness of his dorm room) he looked squarely at us and said cheerfully (and rather forcefully), ‘Bye.’
Helicopter parent? No, not quite, but I was almost ready to start swinging my arms around and hovering …if he’d allowed it.
Oh, what a difference two years make. He’s grown up a lot — and so have his parents. I don’t know who had the harder time of it, but we’re all in a better place now.
Two years ago the thought of my son flying solo kept me awake in a cold sweat and, yes, he was nervous, too. Now? No sweat. I still feel a bit of a twinge, still insist he text me from each airport. But no traveling trauma for any of us anymore.
I used to be fixated on details: Is he cleaning his room? Doing his laundry? Doing his homework? Is he too hot? Too cold? Does he have the right shoes? Is he eating too much? Too little? Gaining weight? Losing weight? Is he happy? Does he have friends? Is he lonely? What if he gets sick?
In looking at my list — which doesn’t even come close to all the things I worried about — I realize something.
Our boy needed to get away — far, far away from us.
Because who can grow up with Mom (and Dad, too, to a lesser extent) fixated on every single aspect of your life? Talk about being over-protective. I cringe when I look back. Was I really that overwhelmingly, smotheringly bad?
I hang my head in embarrassment. Yes. Yes, I was.
The truth is, he does quite well on his own, with a little help at appropriate times. We prepared him as best we could for 18 years, and it’s become apparent to his dad and me that he learned more than we gave him credit for.
Now we talk to each other once a week and text occasionally. He texted me today, in fact, excited about a grade he earned on one of his midterms. He was happy. I was happy.
Lesson learned. I think we’ve all grown up a little.