Raise your hand if you already knew that parents receive lessons when their kids go off to college. We send them on their way to receive a higher education, and what happens? Every waking hour we are being schooled. At least that’s what’s been happening around this nest….
I just knew it would be tough when Hannah moved away to school. In fact, I anticipated the trauma of her leaving so much that I turned the months before into a mental roller coaster for all of us. In two months, no one is going to be here to watch trash Kardashian television with me OR oh my gosh, it’s June, when October gets here, how am I going to decorate for Halloween by myself OR I better not scold her for her disgustingly messy bedroom today, I will miss this mess just a short 94 days from now.
Mental torture! And not just mental torture….self-inflicted mental torture. I’ve always joked with Jeff that he needs to keep a bed open at one of his mental health facilities for me, and now, truly and finally, it looked like the time had come to stop joking about it. I checked myself into the mental health facility inside my brain and watched life through a foggy window for a minute. But just for a minute, because I am not a person who can live life inside fog. I can breathe in the thick, musty air for a small period of time without choking on its staleness, but then I have to clean house and rid myself of the negativity that I occasionally like to wallow in. So I found myself doing just that; literally cleaning house.
I discovered that I was nesting again, just as I had done when I was carrying the children in my belly; just as we do before the beginning of every school year; just as many mommies do anytime there is a big change coming. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but it certainly was. In fact, I was sitting the other day with another mom whose daughter had just left for college and she said to me, “Have you stopped nesting yet?” I just looked at her. “What do you mean?” She smiled and answered, “Aren’t you re-organizing, cleaning, and getting your nest comfortable again? That’s what we all do.” My mouth dropped open. Oh. My. Gosh. A bird flying out of the nest provokes the same reaction as a baby bird entering the nest; preparing said nest for arrival and departure.
I found that caring for my nest relieved the feeling of losing control of what had become so comfortable and normal. To be able to control my actions and do something was the best way for me to see the realness of the situation and not live in the shade of what I had created as reality. And the clear things I saw gave me the fuel I needed to approach this life change with what we are all gifted with—strength and power. Here are the things I saw more clearly:
- I saw my little girl sitting on the couch, making list after list and blog upon blog of all things college. But she wasn’t just making lists and writing her heart out, she was looking at me, patting the couch next to her to sit and talk through the lists with her. I almost missed this part while wallowing.
- I saw my boy, the brother and best friend to this college-bound girl, working through his own realization of what’s coming in the future. And he was looking to Jeff and I as models for how to handle this change. I almost missed opportunities to support his needs and grow with him while I was basking in my own perceived loss.
- I saw my husband quietly observing the dynamic in his home to decipher where he needed to provide extra reinforcements to the nest. He was seeing Mama Bird flapping her wings pretty wildly to maintain flight and wanted to be sure the nest was padded just in case she couldn’t handle the landing. I definitely almost missed seeing his strength while I was focusing on my weakness. And I most certainly wasn’t supporting his Atlas-like balancing of the globe above his head while his own heart muscle was aching. It must be pretty hard to balance the weight of the worlds while your feeling like you yourself are not standing on solid ground. Completely missed that phenomenon. I completely left my superhero without a place to rest while he was being ultra superhero-ey.
- I saw glimpses of my own spirit of fun bubbling at the surface to actually be excited about and enjoy this transition. I realized that I was excited to go through this with her, but every time I would get joyful, I’d feel guilty. Feeling joyful about her future out of our home made me feel like I was declaring that I was glad she was leaving. I almost missed the joy of my own experience because I was weighted with guilt.
- I saw friends and family members offering support and confidence to our family. People that have been on our life’s journey with us from the starting line were reaching out and asking what they could do. I almost missed the joy of friendship and hands being held out.
In fact, one hand that reached out to me was instrumental to the revelation that I needed to open my eyes. The day before Hannah was moving, I was at work and couldn’t catch my breathe through the lump in my throat. I went to my principal and friend to ask him if I could go home after lunch. His dear wife had already slipped a note of encouragement into my hands earlier in the day. What a supportive couple they are. With tears rolling down my face, I entered his office. It was the first time I had cried about her leaving outside of our home. I couldn’t get any words out. He smiled and told me he remembered this feeling when he had delivered his own girls and most recently, his granddaughter, to college, and that it would get better. But then he said one other sentence. And I eventually embraced it, but initially the sentence actually caught me off guard and fired me up. He said, “If I can offer you one bit of encouragement, don’t let your sadness rob you of your joy for the experience.” What??!! Excuse me??!! That’s MY line! I counsel to my kids, I preach it to my students, I blog about it, I LIVE it…………..don’t I? That’s why it made me mad. The truth sometimes burns. Was I not walking the joy walk? Nope. It’s hard to walk the walk when you’ve allowed yourself to strap on ankle weights filled with dreary, heavy cement.
I did come home from work that day, but not to sit and mourn my baby leaving like I had planned. I cleaned out my mental nest and revisited how I truly was feeling, as well as what the destination feelings were that I wanted to aim for. And I also had to have a mental talking to with myself about how I was providing for the needs of my other nest mates.
Every day has not been cushy and easy since she left. But it certainly has been full of joy. Hannah has included us in every aspect. We have used Face Time and group Snap Chats relentlessly. I myself feel like I have gone through rush week after she has so beautifully shared her days with us. I am enjoying the dining hall food as if my own taste buds are living it. I remember when the kids were little and we were homeschooling, I would take them to the ice rink three times a week for lessons. I watched them skate so much that I forgot I couldn’t skate. Until I got onto the ice one day and thought I knew how to hockey-stop. I barrel-rolled straight through the barriers that separated the big kid rink from the little kid rink. But I digress only to share that this is a hockey-stop experience now. Hannah has gone to UCLA. That makes her a Bruin for life. And that makes us a Bruin family for life. Just like I’m a hockey mom for life , and a wife who will forever love Pink Floyd because her husband introduced her to the music one their first date. The nest just gets bigger.
Mommies, this transition is not a new occurrence. Millions of parents have sent their kids off to school, or to the military, or to adventures awaiting them that don’t include their mommies and daddies being directly present. But that’s the trick; we can be there without being there, if we don’t self-sabotage the experience. That’s what I was doing. I was forcing a separation that Hannah didn’t even ask for or want, thinking this is what I was supposed to do. I had heard so many “end of her childhood as you know it” stories and had read so many articles on “getting back to dating your mate” and “finding a hobby to manage the stress”, that I took these stories on as my own. Those articles and stories all have great value, just as all the advice from other moms with horror stories that scared me to death have value (I guess….), but what I forgot to remember is that we all write our own stories and we all follow the path of our own choosing. Nathasha Bedingfield said it best in her song “Unwritten”. Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window, let the sun illuminate the words that you cannot find, reaching for something in the distance, so close you can almost taste it, release your inhibitions, the rest is still unwritten. No one can write my family’s story except us. And I am not alone in my family’s story. There are others who get to have a say in how our story is written. And if I listen to their words, the story is so much better than it could ever be if I tried to write it all by myself. A family is a family no matter where the birds are flying. They hatch in the nest, but what a glorious next chapter when Mommy and Daddy Bird get to perch on a branch over a vast valley of unknown and watch their little birds fly with wings spread. And when the baby birds are having a little wind resistence or have a little injured wing, we are at home feathering a safe landing spot whenever they need it. This doesn’t mean they should run from their troubles and move back into that now roomy nest where a home gym has materialized, but the heart-part of the nest is always open for occupancy. A nest resided in the heart. That is not something to be mourned, but to be joyful about.