I’d been anticipating this moment for 33 years but did not expect that, when it finally arrived, I would feel only fear.
Initially, there was elation. Out of a clear blue sky dropped university admission for the Kid, our fifth and youngest. Math, long her bete noire, had long seemed an insurmountable obstacle. But now, suddenly– in the passage of a month–she would, like all her siblings before her, be going off to college. To Portland State University.
We paid her tuition, her dorm room and meal plan, ordered her books, put some money in her bank account, and generally arranged it so that all she had to do was move in and go to class. A brother and sister who live up there in Oregon helped facilitate it.
I had no idea how catastrophic the first week would be. A roommate who never appeared; rain, as only Noah might have known it, daily; lonliness, isolation and depression. My fear–because, at 20, she is the most ancient of our children to launch–was that her despair would cause a withdrawal from the school. Especially as I remain confident that, in some indeterminate short order, she’ll be enjoying herself outrageously.
And rarely, in the academic arena, is one afforded an opportunity to punch math right on the chops.
Not quite how I pictured we’d venture into the empty nest time of our lives. Time of our lives! I’d always thought it would be more of a fiesta nest–that, in some indeterminate short order, we, like the Kid and all her siblings before her, would be enjoying ourselves outrageously.
Clearly, I’d forgotten everything I’ve ever learned being a parent. Anxiety never exits, even–especially–when the child does. I knew this–already had four cracks at it, for Christ’s sake–but apparently had been so focused upon this as a moment of success that I could only see the celebratory side.
Dad blunders again!
In my defense, the four kids ahead of her shot off early, with alacrity, took to their new situations like ducks to a pond and for the most part never looked back. This, the Chief and I had long decided, was the achievement. Pour 110% into fostering your kids’ aims and in turn they’ll be jousting the world on chargers of their own esteem. Math be damned.
We never took lengthy vacations, abdicating our responsibilities as parents. We were always in the thick of it, whatever it was. And with five different kids, there always were at least five different things going on. I guess now the fiesta half of the equation will see the Chief and I each doing our own things.
Still, I cleave to Star Trek’s Prime Directive: Don’t interfere. We’ve released these beasts into the wild, and it’s not up to us to cheat them out of their final learning experiences by suddenly becoming helicopter parents. Which is not to say that the whole damned exercise isn’t difficult. I remain worried beyond my capacity to breathe. But I believe we raised them well, and I have every faith in them.
We therefore paid our oldest’s house off–so far, at least, as lending institutions are concerned–and eliminated student debt for all of them. I try to allow them to build an identity before reconnecting with them. Arduous, yes–but the Chief does not seem to share this problem.
What remains in any empty nest are memories. Among many, one of my very favorite actually involves the Kid. We were living in Lemon Cove at the time, and she must have been all of three years old. It was just after dark on a summer’s evening when suddenly I remembered that a lunar eclipse was going to happen. You can’t let such an event slip by unobserved–especially if all you have to do is go outside. So down the porch steps and onto the driveway I went, the night air as warm as a bath. At this point the moon was almost entirely occluded. Behind me, up on the porch, came tiny footsteps followed by a tiny, but fairly assertive, voice.
I wheeled about and there stood the Kid, in her skivvies, pointing. “What was that?” I asked.
“Suchingus mune,” she shrugged, casually, if fully, accepting the situation.
It took me a few seconds to translate this. “That’s right,” I agreed. “No such thing as moon.”
“For now,” I said. “But it’ll be back.”
As, on their own terms, will all the kids be. Back.
Parenting doesn’t end when the nest empties. In surprising ways, ways that I had not foreseen, it begins afresh. But there is a hush upon the house now that I find endearing. It’s a silence that lures memory–and memories that alleviate absence.