Sometimes, parents don’t feel the “empty nest” effect until long after the chickens have flown the coop.
Many of my friends had separation anxiety the day their kids left for college. I didn’t. I felt as free as a baby bird taking its first solo flight. Free as a mare let out to pasture.
It had been a nerve-wracking year for all of us, trying to decide which college was best for our daughter (and affordable), making sure all the admissions paper work was finished on time, that the SAT and ACT tests were taken and other miscellaneous deadlines met. And then there was that group of essays in my inbox waiting to be reviewed. Finally, the coveted acceptance letter to one of my daughter’s top choice colleges arrived. Now that the whole admissions process was over and a college chosen, she was happy and I could breathe.
I gallivanted around with my friends without a care in the world. I tried out the new restaurant downtown. I went to the movies. I read books from cover to cover. No dashing off to the post office to get that last application in. No essays to read. No more drilling on SAT questions or reminding her to fill out scholarship applications. No tax returns to hunt down and photocopy. Now that she was settled and happy on campus, I didn’t have to cook or drive as much. I was a free woman indeed.
But after a year of so-called freedom and as I neared the bottom of my bucket list, I became keenly aware of the eerie silence in my home. I’d think I heard her footsteps, but it was just the dogs scrambling after a ball. An occasional bark or the whir of the refrigerator was the only sound I heard. No one asked me, “What’s for dinner?” anymore.
I remember the Nutella I sprang for the day before she left for college. It’s still sitting on the pantry shelf. I wish I had bought it while we were scurrying to finish the college forms. Maybe we would have taken more snack breaks and just enjoyed one another’s company while licking chocolate-laden spoons.
She’s a young adult now, and “Where’d the time go?” is more than a cliché. People warned me, when she was a toddler, that time would go fast. But it really feels like it was just yesterday that we were playing with Legos and fishing for worms in the rain puddles.
Sometimes now, when I’m in H-E-B and hear a young voice calling “Mommy,” I think it sounds just like her. I’ve even answered on a few occasions, much to the knowing amusement of the other mothers who also turn around to see who’s calling. Then I remember one of my daughter’s favorite sayings: “You’ve been trolled, Mommy.”
Yes, I’ve been trolled. Trolled into thinking I had this “daughter-away-at-college” thing under control. Trolled into believing that once my child left for college, I could breathe easy. I don’t breathe easy; I breathe differently. My breaths now are full of prayers for her safety and her happiness and faith and for the restraint not to call her every day—prayers that our hearts will be held together until I see her again.
In the meantime, would someone please send me a college essay to review? It’s lonely over here.