It happens so quickly. The day is hot, you’re in your lightest t-shirt, sweating with an icy refreshment, smelling like sunscreen and summertime. The evening brings a big breeze – the winds of change – the temperature drops, leaves turn golden overnight and suddenly it’s a sweater day. A friend said to me once that the new year should start in September – as that is the time of new beginnings, holidays end, work life accelerates, kids start playschool and grade school or even leave home for fresh adventures. It’s been a decade since our family was knocked off its feet as one by one, yet all so quickly, our four kids were launched from home.
Before that there was a familiar rhythm to getting back to packing lunches and supervising homework and meeting new teachers. And then suddenly the tune changed – we were helping our kids (young adults really) pack suitcases, buy dorm or apartment supplies – Ikea dishes and clothes hampers, maybe a tea kettle. Possibly you know that drill – or perhaps instead you’ve got a traveler on your hands, causing you some trepidation as they shop for backpacks and the perfect tiny tent. The world’s opened up again and they’re going to navigate the furthers corners of it. It should be exciting, right? So, what’s with this quaking you feel? And sleepless nights rivalling when you had wee babies in the house?
That was me – times four. Those autumns of our kids flying the coop were full of chaos and apprehension. How would our comfortably close family readjust? As we were just adapting to our oldest daughter leaving for university and not coming through the gate at the end of a school day, pausing sometimes to lie on the lawn and gaze at the clouds, the others started to flee, also -one to be a liftie on a far-away ski hill, another for university on an island, the last to travel Europe solo.
Those times are behind us. Now I’m calling my young granddaughters up to ask what they’ve decided to wear for the first day back to grade school and hearing mostly about their eagerness to hang with friends again. The next morning their mom, my daughter Zoë, tells me that in all their excitement and rush after those lazier summer mornings, she forgot to tell the oldest where she would meet her when her new school gets out. Oh no, I say, but then we’re both consoled in an odd way that for the first time this granddaughter is taking a cell phone to school and so finding her when the bell goes won’t really be a problem in 2022. (As the kids say, “No judgement.” She’s twelve and getting about on her own.)
I tell Zoë that September brings me back to the panic of those under rehearsed autumn mornings when she and her three siblings were young, and then I think about the days when in quick succession they left home. It was Zoë first, packing up her paints and fantasy novels, then Cole with his snowboard and video camera, two years later Hudson with his dry wit and philosophy books, and finally Lily kissed us and flew to Europe – though somewhere before all that she kissed us and ran away.
From our too quiet house I wrote a book about the change from bubbling wrapping to letting go, titled, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. It wasn’t easy for this mom of four to adjust to late night anxious calls, to hear from a daughter looking for a place to cry out loud, the way she liked to cry, to adjust to the unease, angst and face it – sometimes new peace – over grilled cheese for dinner, because who cooks for two? The media and an older generation would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented our kids. I was able to stay connected and endure their flights from home with the aid of satellite communications, during this anxious time of back and forth texting, calling, consoling, and applauding as everyone in our family got their bearings again. If you’re up for a bit of a wild ride – check it out – Text Me, Love Mom offers an opportunity to contemplate and laugh over the perpetual trial and error of another stage of parenting. Or stay in touch with my blog where I’m musing about other topics now – check out the list in the sidebar. And I still feel nostalgic in September….