Empty Nest

For months before we took Elena off last week to begin her college studies at Lawrence University, I listened to other mothers telling me stories of their experience of taking their children to college. I sobbed all the way home, one said. I cried for weeks after we dropped him off, said another. Others frequently reminded me that I’d now have an “empty nest,” telling me how difficult that would be. All of this had me quite anxious in advance of our trip to Lawrence.

On Labor Day we drove to Appleton, Wisconsin, and moved Elena into her dorm the next morning. We helped her deal with some practical issues (e.g., opening a bank account) and attended some parent orientation events before saying good-bye and driving back. During the hour or so before we departed, I kept wondering when I was going to start crying, when I would start feeling awful about the good-bye. But the tears never came, and neither did the sadness.

The truth is that I was so excited for the adventure Elena is beginning that I had no room for sadness. Now, I have truly the most wonderful daughter in the world and I love having her around and I do and will miss her. But I could see how ready she was for this experience and, as I wandered around the Lawrence campus with her, my joy and excitement was almost a match for her own. I loved being an undergraduate and knowing what these years will be for her – the growth, the adventure – filled me with delight. True, I was also jealous that I couldn’t go back to college again, but mostly I was just happy for her.

Once I got over my initial reaction to my lack of tears – the “oh no, I must be a bad mother if I’m not crying” – I felt a sense of satisfaction. Dave and I aimed to raise our daughter with “roots and wings” and I think we gave her both. As happy as I am about the strength of her roots, I’m even more proud of her wings. And so, without sadness, without tears, I rejoice in her new life.

And of course, there is Facebook chat, which allows frequent quick hellos. And I also suspect that, in addition to the periodic “regular” phone calls, there will be more calls like the 40 second one we had yesterday afternoon. “Hi Mom. I’m in the laundry room. I forgot what I do for colored clothes.” I don’t doubt there will be moments when I feel her absence strongly. And I’ll probably be asking God more frequently to watch over her than when she was here where I could look out for her. But it is all OK.

More than OK.