The afternoon my husband and I dropped our daughter off in front of her college dorm — a week before the formal start of classes — I had a moment. A chest-clutching, heart-pounding, eyes-burning, “I-won’t-cry,” moment. My firstborn was leaving our nest.
Then we drove home.
I knew that the move was temporary. She was living only a couple of hours from home and, with her computer and smart phone, if I wanted to talk to her, or see her, we were an Internet connection away. We didn’t change her room, despite my visions of an office-slash-home gym and, of course, she was home during holidays and summer breaks, so it was only a semi-empty nest.
Then she graduated and wanted to go back for her master’s degree – three states, 650 miles, and 14 hours away. I had more than a little moment with that.
That time it was different. I couldn’t jump in my car for a short road trip to visit, and she couldn’t come home for an impromptu weekend. We were at least a full day apart. She was even living in a different time zone. Video chats and phone calls had to be meticulously planned around classes and work.
She was signing a lease on her own, applying for student loans on her own, getting sick on her own, working on her own, all those grown-up things grown-ups do on their own. Our relationship shifted. She still called often, but it was more to share her day, and not so much seeking maternal wisdom.
On track to graduate this spring, there is talk of her staying in her adopted state, or perhaps looking for work in D.C. – even farther away. This may have been the last Thanksgiving and Christmas that we are together as a family, and that’s a harsh reality.
All those times I joked about looking forward to having an empty nest, to not having ankle-biters to wrangle came back to me, and it stung. This is really happening; my days as a stay-at-home mom are over. My identity for so long is no longer valid, and I am having a crisis of self.
I know I will always be a mother, and both of my kids still need me, but it’s not a 24/7 job like it used to be. I finally need to decide what I want to be when I grown up.
Full-disclosure: I still have one child at home. Our 19-year-old son lives with us, but with his schedule, and independent spirit, I barely see him too.
Maybe my melancholy comes from my first child out of the house being a daughter and feeling more protective of her. Having your firstborn leave home, just like her being the first one to leave home for kindergarten, is hard to reconcile.