I thought I’d be okay with this. I thought I’d been encouraging my child’s independence his whole life in part to prepare him for life as a productive adult but also to prepare me for his launch into adulthood. I’ve heard all about the Empty Nest Syndrome, all about the benefits and sense of loss for parents when their babies fly the coop. What I have heard NO ONE say is that many teenagers leave, for all practical purposes, years before they go to college or leave home at 18.
I have had moments when I have been more than ready for my 16-year-old to move out, like when I think I no longer have the patience to sit waiting in a parking lot for him to be the last to leave the locker room, or when I find five damp towels on the floor of his room, or the entire stack of clean and folded clothes I put on his bed has been thrown into the dirty clothes pile (if indeed he bothers to make a pile).
Today I’m not feeling that way at all. I’ve got the whole Empty Nest thing going on right now and my son is still a junior in high school. This year he got his own car–yeah for independence and saving on my own gas! He also recently got a job. He’s very social and likes to spend time with his friends when he can. His time is also divided between my house and his dad’s. I encourage all of this. Every bit of this is important to his growth and maturity.
But today is different. Today I was hit with the overwhelming feeling of what it means to have him truly out of the house. With all that he has going on, and his own damn willfulness (he’s obviously inherited the stubborn Swede genetics from my family), I see him very little. I have made dinner for him twice in the last two weeks, both of which he ate while standing in the kitchen because he was on his way somewhere else. We sat down to dinner together when we ate out last Tuesday night.
I nearly bawled all the way through church this morning. He had to work and our usual Sunday routine has come to a screeching halt. We’ve gone to church on Sunday mornings and then out to lunch since he was a toddler. All around me were sweet little ones, like my god daughter sitting next to me, and the sweet twin babies behind me in the back row. And the sweet baby to the left with the family who is fostering her. And the sweet Dilday kids a few rows ahead of me, only a bit younger than my own. All of these kids served as reminders of my own sweet baby who is now no longer a baby, though he’s still sweet. Sometimes. To other people.
It got me thinking about all those things we feel so certain we’ll always remember about our little ones, but fair warning, fellow parents, you won’t. I just wish I had known about all the last times:
I bounced him up and down while getting him to sleep when he was a baby and I sang every single song I’ve ever known (lots of Beatles, gospel, and Christmas carols) with his soft baby head resting on my shoulder and his little bottom perched on my arm
I pushed him on the swing or took him to the park to play
I laid down with him at night to read him a book and fell asleep in his bed with him
The last time he connived his way into sleeping with me
I sang him “You Are My Sunshine”
We sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” together
We went to a movie and he sat on my lap
I would say as he went to bed, “How much do I love you?” and he would always answer, “Whole wide world”
He leaned against me in the church pew and rested his head on my shoulder
We played trivia games with mostly questions about Sponge Bob while on a road trip
He wore the Batman cape I made him out of black satin fabric
He wore those tennis shoes with the lights in the soles
He fell asleep on my chest
He skipped as he left school and made his way to my car
He clapped and danced to his favorite Elmo video
This could go on forever. I won’t feel so melancholy and nostalgic tomorrow. I know that we have plenty of good times ahead and some very exciting things for him in the next year. For today, though, this premature empty nest hurts my heart a little bit, and I miss my bouncy little boy who wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me too hard.
I think I get what this grandparent thing is all about. It’s some sort of weird craving to have these little ones in your life. Fortunately I have very young nieces and a nephew, as well as a toddler god daughter who lives nearby, and you can bet I’ll be finagling ways to get my hands on them whenever possible, partly because I love all of them dearly, but also so I can relive in a very small way what it meant to have my own in my house.
Angie Albright, author of A Growing Season