Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Count Down to Empty Nest

The day my youngest child heads out to her new college is fast approaching. On Thursday, her dad drives her over the mountains to her new residence in a truck stuffed full of everything she thinks she will need. This multitude of boxes includes a rice cooker, an orchid and a couple dozen stuffed animals.

I have asked myself: Is she ready?
Was I?

And then I asked: Who’s not quite ready for her to leave?
I have found the dance of parenting particularly intricate with this last child. She’s the ‘baby of the family’ and she’s an only child with her siblings nine and six years older. I don’t even think I can completely understand the relationship that I have co-created - how can I see what I am so deeply embedded in? What's really important is how ready she is to get out of this house and breathe the fresh air of living her own life instead of being immersed in my protective bubble.

“I’m not sure I trust her to make good decisions.” My husband said this last night after a difficult summer that included her car being totaled. By her.
And then I asked: Can you trust your ability to love wholeheartedly knowing that the other person is on a journey that will most likely include choices that you would not make?

We, as many parents, anxiously hope that our baby will teeter into the world infused with our sage wisdom and experience. Obviously, she hasn't grown up in a vacuum, but right now she just feels the exhilaration and growing pains of becoming her own person. It’s a hard process to bring a word like trust into. It’s front-loaded with expectations, values and conditions - all geared to a parent's peace of mind. Wanting to "trust in another" is all about the person who wants, not the person who is targeted to provide. 
My husband spoke to that as well - about letting go, releasing this bundle of joy out into the universe for a purpose that is hers to explore and discover. When we let go, we start trusting that we can be separate and thrive in our different ways. We trust that whatever happens, we – parents and children - will find the strength and compassion to learn, grow and love. When life challenges our hearts, we want to have faith in our ability to move through those moments. 
We let go, because no matter what we think, we can’t ‘trust’ any other person on this planet to do exactly what we think they ‘should’.
It isn’t any surprise to me that the seemingly earth-shattering and most difficult questions we are asking as the last child packs for college are concerned with potential loss (of life, limb, sanity, trust). The fundamental questions are reverberating loudly because this time - with this change - our world axis is actually shifting. Within a couple of days, the twenty eight years of having children in the house will be history - a wonderful history that began when I was 22 years old. We are all clinging – yes, daughter included – to old dynamics even as we embrace the new. She’s giddy about college and reluctant to leave home. I’m giddy about not having kids in the house and not sure how I won’t worry about her eating habits. There’s comfort in where we’ve been even as we outgrow those old ways of being. The push and pull of this moment is larger than just one kid heading out to college.

She feels it, so do I. Our other children feel it too. My older daughter who lives on the east coast told me today that she can’t wait to see how her father and I will settle into our own relationship that isn’t centered around the care and keeping of children. She’s excited for us as a couple. So am I. 
I look forward to having my children in my life as adults, as people who know me in ways that no one else ever will and as people that I have watched grow from their very first breaths into amazing human beings. And, very soon, I get to put down the parenting hat which feels like the end of a very long marathon.
The youngest child has a few more years of moving in and out of our lives as a dependent. The marathon might be over but I'm sure we'll have a few laps around the field of support and needs. I'm optimistic. Why not? My hope is that the parent/child dynamics will begin to wane as she becomes more and more independent.

As I become more and more independent.
It’s a two way street as we both step into the changes of growing up and older.

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