Chick #1 leaves the nest
I’ve known I was going to write this column for a long, long time. But I couldn’t write it until just this moment, because the events that are involved in the telling only happened this past weekend.
I drove my first child to university. I knew it was going to be a momentous occasion, I knew that there were going to be tears. Heck, I’ve been running the gamut between getting just a little moist in the eyes (when we bought her first set of cookware) to being really quite teary (when she graduated high school back in June) to all out sobbing (when my brain got the better of me; those ugly cries only happened in the privacy of the bathroom or in my pillow). But no matter how many people I chatted with about it, no matter how many times I pictured it all in my head, it wasn’t a reality until Monday afternoon, around a quarter past one.
I had predicted that I would be a snivelling, snotty mess in those final moments before driving off. I was wrong. Instead, my daughter was the one who was a snivelling, snotty mess. And her youngest sister, who had come along for the ride, was no better. My motherly “I gotta keep it all together for them” instinct automatically kicked in and I found myself doling out tissues to the two of them, telling them that no one had died, that everything was going to be great, that it was all part of a new adventure – all the things that various people had said to me when I found myself getting melancholy over the whole thing.
We told a few jokes, had a couple more hugs, and I finally drew in a deep breath, said “Ok, we have to hit the road,” and I jumped into the driver’s seat before anyone could grab me. My youngest and I clicked on our seat belts (to the soundtrack of great sobs on her part), put the car in motion and pulled out of the parking lot.
It was, by far, one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life.
My daughter is at Brock University in St. Catharines, and it has a gigantic roundabout as a central feature in its landscape. It took every ounce of willpower that I had to not loop around the entire circle and go back to my daughter, to where she still stood, waving as tears coursed down her cheeks. Even though we had planned this, and looked forward to it, and were/are as excited as anyone can be about her going away to school, I felt like I was abandoning her, somehow, like I was throwing her to the wolves, leaving her to fend for herself, which I was, in a sense, but in the most unkind way possible. I felt physically ill.
I managed to drive home with relatively few tears – can’t afford blurry vision on the 401 – and tears are still there, as we’re only a few days into it and it’s all still pretty raw. Friends who have been through this already say it gets better. My friend here in the office, Sue, promises that it does get better. I’m not trusting her word though – she did two back-to-back weekends of moving her two daughters off to two separate universities, and she’s a hot mess. And I completely get it.
Sue and I (when we should be putting a newspaper together) have discussed this whole kids moving away thing at length, and we have completely justified ourselves feeling the way we do. We have, while working full-time, devoted our lives to our children. She’s now got the proverbial “empty nest.” My nest isn’t empty, but the knowledge that my nest will never be the same is quite jarring. The daughter that comes back at Thanksgiving will not be the daughter that I left this weekend. Already she’ll be different, a teeny bit more worldly, a tiny bit more savvy. A bit more grown up. And we all know that when we recognize that our kids are grown up, we ourselves have grown older. It all boils down to facing our mortality. Rather morose, isn’t it? But it’s true. Kids marching off to school, starting the next grade…it’s just all putting us one step closer to when it’s all over. And that just plain sucks.
So, instead of looking forward to the inevitable end – because that’s just horribly depressing – I find myself looking back. Looking back to when we lived in Sunderland, and a neighbour would always tease me about traipsing around town with my three girls in tow like a mother hen with her chicks. I had several people say that to me, actually, and I realized that that was how I thought of them. My chicks. Now one of my chicks is fluffing her feathers and, to beat the metaphor to death, leaving the nest. I’m so excited for her, to see what she’ll become, to watch her grow as a woman, and if I know her, to take over Brock University single-handedly. Good on her.
I am all for letting my girls discover their futures and will support them every step of the way. But in the manual I received when my kids were born (what, you didn’t get one!?), the chapter on them moving off to school was strangely omitted and I find myself a little unprepared. Thank heavens for texting and all the social media. My daughter and I can connect in ways my mom and I never could when I was in school. Maybe that was a good thing…
To the parents out there who are going through kid withdrawal – know you aren’t alone. Let’s all be hot messes together. Kleenex, please.