“YOU SHOULD CARRY ME across the threshold,” I suggested as I waited on the back stoop for him to unlock the door.
He inserted the key into the lock, then turned and looked at me. “It’s like starting over, isn’t it?”
And so a new phase begins in our lives. At this precise moment I am not embracing it, this becoming an empty nester after 26 ½ years of children under our roof.
I am sad and tired and exhausted from lack of sleep and am a bit of an emotional mess. How did my husband and I, 30 years married, arrive, snap, just like that, at this point of coming full circle back to only the two of us?
Saturday morning we delivered our 18-year-old and his van full of belongings to the second floor of Johnson Hall at North Dakota State University in Fargo. (Or, more accurately, the energetic NDSU move-in crew carried everything from the lawn, down the sidewalk, up the stairs and to our son’s corner room at the tunnel end of a hallway.)
As cliché as it sounds, this truly marked for me a bittersweet moment of mixed emotions—realizing I’d done my part to raise our boy and now I had to trust him to make it on his own in a town, at a school, 5 ½ hours away.
I don’t care how many children you’ve left at college—and I’ve already seen my daughters, 26 and 24, through four years of post-secondary education and entry into the workforce—it is not easy to leave your kids, these children you’ve nourished and loved and held and cherished for 18 years. Not easy at all.
I’ve even been known to say, “I should have locked you kids in the basement and not let you go anywhere.”
Of course, I don’t mean that. I wouldn’t want any of my children to feel afraid or insecure or unable to set out on their own because I selfishly desired to keep them close. I have raised them to be strong, independent, venturesome adults.
When my eldest announced during her first semester of college that she would be going on a mission trip to Paraguay during spring break, I may have used that “should have locked you in the basement” phrase in the same breath as asking, “Where the heck is Paraguay?”
Then when her sister, several years later, said that she would be studying abroad in Argentina for fall semester, I muttered, “…should have locked you in the basement.”
When the son decided to join his high school Spanish class on a spring break trip to Spain, I mumbled to myself “…locked you in the basement.”
Humor helps when you are parenting, in those times when you don’t want your child to realize just how difficult it is to let go. I doubt, though, that I’ve ever totally fooled my three.
I am proud of myself, though, for never leaving a college dorm room in tears. I can be strong when I need to be, when my child needs me to be.
But I cried twice in the weeks before the son’s college departure date and he assured me, “Mom, it’s OK to be sad.” He was right.
And then I cried on Sunday, upon our arrival home from that weekend journey to Fargo. I walked into my boy’s upstairs bedroom and saw the rumpled sheets, his matted white teddy bear…and reality struck me. He’s gone.
I walked downstairs, told my husband I’d had my sad moment. Then I broke down and cried, deep wrenching sobs, and Randy wrapped his arms around me and held me.
Perhaps tomorrow he will carry me across the threshold.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling