Anticipating the Empty Nest

Anticipating the Empty Nest

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Anticipating the Empty Nest

The two most important things a parent can give a child are roots and wings.

Hodding Carter

Tomorrow is about to arrive. My first child is preparing to leave for college, and the family unit will change forever. This is not a surprise to me, and yet, I am deeply surprised by how quickly this day is speeding toward us. I’m not quite finished with her. I feel betrayed by time.

This is a happy and healthy step in the expected, and hoped for, chain of milestones. She is eager and ready to leave, but I am not nearly ready to let her go. I need to make a few more cupcakes with her, read and recite from Goodnight Moon, and maybe create one more fruit basket from Play-Doh. I want to tell her, “Wait a minute!” and have her stand still. And in that time I would hurry to fill her head with the things about life that I am afraid I forgot to tell her. But standing still, she would impatiently reply, “Yes, Mom, I know. You’ve told me.” And she would be right; but I can’t help feeling that I forgot something.

Seventeen years ago, as I stood over her crib watching her breathe, I wrote a letter to my four-day-old infant. It said, “These are the days when doorknobs are unreachable, the summer is long, and tomorrow takes forever to arrive.” In this letter I told her of the plans and dreams I had for the two of us. I promised her tea parties in winter, and tents in the spring. We would do art projects and make surprises for her daddy. And I promised her experience. We would examine sand and flowers and rocks and snowflakes. We would smell the grass, the ocean and burning wood. I would have the gift of learning about our world once again, as she absorbed it for the first time.

We experienced so much more than I promised on that night long ago. We endured many of life’s painful interruptions. When the continuity of our plans had to pause to accommodate sorrow, we grew from the shared hurt and the coping. I never promised her that all of our experiences would be happy, just that her father and I would be there with unquestioning support.

When this tomorrow is actually here, I will keep the final promise I made to my baby daughter. In the letter I told her, “I will guide you as safely as I can to the threshold of adulthood; and there, I will let you go . . . for the days quickly pass when doorknobs are unreachable, summers are long, and tomorrow takes forever to arrive.”

As I prepare to let her go, I reflect upon her first day of nursery school, when I, like countless mothers before me, said good-bye to a tearful child and went back to look in the school window a few minutes later. I needed to know if she was still crying. I believe that in September, when I leave this child at her college dorm, she will slip down to the parking lot and find me there, crying.

Seventeen years ago I watched her breathe. Tomorrow I will watch her fly.

Bonnie Feuer

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