“I’m going to be fine in empty nest. Don’t worry about me out here in Montana in my farmhouse. I’ve got my writing. I’ve got my writing retreats. I’ve got my horses. I love my land. I’m going to travel the world. It’s time for me again.”
That’s what I tell people.
That’s what I tell myself.
Inside, I’m terrified. It seeps in at 4:00 a.m. when I wake most nights, when the fears are immune to my internal motherly “hush now.” My mind isn’t just racing, it’s hauling ass down every dark alley I am able to avoid in daylight. It’s trapped in this labyrinth of panic by Fear incarnate and it wants OUT. And it’s not bills and health and aging and the other usuals. It’s this dwindling last flame on the last wick of my motherhood. And it’s the last light out of this Fear-mongered labyrinthine haunt.
How am I going to do this ‘being alone’ thing? How am I going to feel secure without that last child’s room full? That boy who wakes up in the morning and wants an egg sandwich, and a lovingly filled lunchbox– his sandwich cut in half and a Honeycrisp apple, not a Gala. A little bag of carrots and that note that I sometimes write, but not usually anymore, because I don’t want to embarrass him around his friends. Or make them feel sad that they don’t have a mother who does that for them. I’m letting my motherhood go. I feel it. Some mornings I make his lunch the night before, and put out cereal on the kitchen table with a note: Have a nice day. And I peek my head into his room in the glow of computer and cell screens and say, “I’m going to sleep in tomorrow. I have a long day of work and I need my sleep.” But what I’m really saying is, “This thing is crushing me. I need to prepare. I can’t go cold turkey. I need to know that you can do this on your own. I need to know that I can do this alone.”
And he can. Of course he can. I always said I was raising adults. Flexible, adaptable, adults. I let them use knives early. I literally touched their fingers to the hot stove so that they would learn. On my terms, I guess. I wanted to get it over with. But what about me? Am I going to take to my bed? Am I going to have long dark nights of the soul like I did after my father died? I can’t bear those. Will I feel unexplained joy, the way you do when your motherhood gets served to you in surprise heaping plates—when they crawl into bed with you on a Sunday morning, all six feet of them, and want to just “hang out?” When they come into your office and sit down in the same chair they used to when they were little, and start talking about their day, on and on, knowing that you care, that you’ll listen, that you are their only and forever mother? Are those moments all over now? Will I have to manufacture them on the phone or on vacations? The mundane, the holy mundane, of my motherhood is going in five…four…three…two…
You know when you are about to leave a relationship or a place, and you start to look at all the things you can’t stand about it? How you’re going to be better off without it? “Never liked that neighbor. I’ll be better off without all that ridiculous traffic. Can’t stand the way he eats. Never wanted a cat anyway.”
I’m doing that with my motherhood.
And I think my son is doing it with his childhood.
We’re butting heads where we usually can find humor. We’re finding fault where we normally make spaciousness for each other. I’m getting rip-shit-mad over dishes in the sink. I don’t get rip-shit-mad as a rule. I am a Talker-through-er. A Let’s-sit-down-and-have-a-heart-to-heart-er, kind of mother. Some would say too lenient. But I have always set my sites on trust and not blame. Trust is what will bring my relationship with my children into the future, fortified and stalwart. My go-to line: “We all screw up. It’s how we act around it that matters.” I know that when people get rip-shit-mad it’s because they’re afraid. So here I am…being afraid. Apparently dishes are as scary as that dark 4:00 a.m. Fear monster.
I remember my daughter acting this way her senior year. Nothing I did was right. And when your offenses are small, it’s like, “I can’t believe we have to have lamb chops again. And why are they always medium rare? And why do you have to have that stupid jazz on in the background? And why do we have to go to Belize for Spring Break when all my friends are going to Cabo?” And now, neither of us can barely remember that blip in our relationship. Now it’s all humor and love and forgiveness and open-heartedness. I have every faith that it will be that way with my son. He’s ready to fly. I know. I know. But still…
Last night, I lay there at 4:00 a.m., the Fear chasing me down those dark alleys: no more boy in the house. No more impromptu dance moves around the kitchen—and he can finally dip me! No more “Let’s meet in town and have a special dinner, just you and me.” No more “Mom, I have an orchestra concert. You should come.” No more baseball. So much baseball. I’ve measured my life in innings every spring/summer for the past twelve years. I love it and I loathe it. My life is already so sedentary as a writer. All that sitting. My back is already a wreck.
And my eyes blinked open wide. No more baseball. Hmmm….
What else is there going to be no more of?
Well heck— might as well.
And I grabbed my journal from my bed-side table and went for it. It’s raw, but I’m sharing it with you. Maybe it will help you. Don’t judge.
No more mayonnaise at 7:00 a.m.
No more moldy lunchboxes showing up on the counter.
No more “Sign this form. It’s already late. Hurry.”
No more fifteen pairs of sneakers strewn in the breezeway.
No more being ignored for the glow of screens.
No more “Why don’t we have any food?” when there’s an entire freezer and pantry full of it. (#malepatternblindness)
No more “I forgot my cleats. They’re under my bed. Can you drop them off at the office? Like…in ten minutes?”
No more “Can I stay out until 1:00 am?”
No more “No way. Midnight, latest.”
No more “Calm down. Everyone else is allowed to stay out until 1:00.”
No more “Will the parents be there?”
No more “I think so.”
No more “Midnight. Drive carefully, please. The roads are icy.”
No more “I’m okay, but the car isn’t.”
No more teenaged lumps lying on couches until noon on a Saturday, eating pancakes with hooded sweatshirts on and sometimes a thank you. Sticky plates in the sink.
Who am I kidding.
I’m going to miss those sticky plates. I’m going to miss those thank you’s when they come. I’m going to miss driving in to school to save the day. And yes…I’m going to miss baseball. I’m going to roam around those stands when he’s gone, and wish I could sit all day in the blazing sun hearing all that “Go kiiiiiid” and “You got this, kiiiiiiid,” and “Bring ‘er home, kiiiiiiid.” Who am I kiiiiiding.
It’s morning. It’s Sunday. He’s on a bus going to an Orchestra showcase in Bozeman, Montana. Probably with his sweatshirt hood over his head, drooling on his baseball pillowcase, headphones on.
So I call him. And he answers.
“How are the roads?”
“Not bad. But it’s snowing pretty hard.”
Quick prayer to the bus driver. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to sleep. Listening to tunes.”
“I hope not Rap. And not too loud. You’re going to ruin your ears.”
“Calm down, Mom. I’m listening to the Brahms song that we’re playing.”
Gulp. “Brahms wrote the lullaby I used to sing to you every night.”
Not gonna cry. Not gonna cry. “I’m really going to miss you next year, you know.”
“I know. I’m going to miss you too.”
“We going to be okay. We’re going to be better than okay. Onward!”
“Text when you get there.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
So now what? A Sunday morning in early February. I’m alone. In bed. Propped up in old smelly pillows. What’s left of my tea is cold. The snow is gently falling. Do I sob? Because you can bet, I’m crying writing this. I could sing that Brahms lullaby and spend hours bawling my eyes out. But I don’t think I will. Not today. I have a book to write. And a quiet house. All day.
A quiet house.
So I go downstairs to make my second cup of Earl Grey tea, sending a whisper to myself next February. You’re going to be okay. This isn’t going to hurt as much as you think. Go cup of tea by cup of tea, page by page, word by word, gentle (and yes motherly) thought by gentle thought. It’s time to mother yourself now.
But for now…I’m scared. And I’m taking all the advice I can get from those who have been here. Comments appreciated!
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