Sunday, December 11, 2011

Empty Nest May Be Coming Sooner that I Thought

A week ago my youngest - that sixteen year old daughter of mine - broached a subject that has been unfolding within her own heart and mind. She's questioning what she wants to do when she grows up at the same time that she is looking around her and trying to figure out what she really wants.
She has a dream and she finally told me about it. Her fear was that I would immediately shoot it down and tell her that there was no way in hell THAT was going to happen. THAT being her participation in an study abroad program next year.

An academic year spent in Spain.

I don't think she realizes how evident that dream has been. Not that I knew she would come to see that experience as part of her dream; however, she has been chomping at the bit to live internationally since eighth grade.  I've known that she sees herself as a global citizen - not just an American.  I've watched her read Nicholas Kristof's Half the Sky and wonder out loud how she can help those suffering in third world countries. This is the kid that doesn't let people around her make racial jokes. She talks about traveling, yearns to see the world. And yes, as much as she talks about giving back, she also thinks shopping in Paris would be the highlight of her life.  She is sixteen.  I actually hope she keeps the balance.

The fact is, she has hated living in this big house all alone with her two parents. She is six years younger than her sister, nine years younger than her brother. The quiet freaks her out. She wants noise and people and things to do. She wants more challenges to help her figure out who she is and what direction she wants to move in. I hear her talk about that and know - deeply understand - that she is doing just that by asking to go live abroad for a year.

I can't be anything but excited for her.  It feels like when my other two kids went to college.  It was time - they could handle it and I had confidence in their ability to muck through.

I also suspect that after a year in Spain, even as she comes back to complete her senior year of high school, she will not be coming back the child who left. She will be in that in-between state that most parents experience with their kids during summers of college. Adult-ish. Much more her own person. We won't be putting her back in the box of child - hell, she'll be eighteen.

Which is why the empty nest is looking a lot closer than it did a month ago.

I'm conflicted in my feelings. I'm excited for her but I also feel excited for me. Has my longing to be done with high school and parenting (being painfully honest here) somehow pushed my daughter out of the house? Does she feel loved and supported or has some undercurrent of impatience prompted her to want out as soon as possible? Am I demeaning her courage by even thinking that?  Is it all of the above AND normal?  Is this all part of the dynamic of a child being ready to leave home?
Questions - I have more of those right now than answers.

At the moment, what is in my heart is this: I think she is really brave and I can only imagine what an amazing experience it will be for her.

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