Ponder: Leaving the Nest

I was chatting with a dear friend that I’ve know for 14 years this weekend…man, do I miss her! We met on a playground with our then 2 year old boys, and we, as well as the boys, became fast friends! Laurie is one of those people that you always feel comfortable with. She makes me feel happier and lighter every time we talk. And she is in a similar position with a tough Junior year of high school and college preparation in full swing. The only difference is that I have done this once already so I am able to help her through this time. I told her about this post. I wrote it last year when our oldest left the nest. I didn’t post it because it felt too personal like a piece of me and my family that I didn’t want to share… that I wanted to hold onto just for me. At Laurie’s urging, I decided to post it. Maybe it will be a help to other moms or dads in a similar position to Laurie and I or for parents that just dropped off their baby to college this year for the first time.

I was the first of my friends to get married, have kids and all the firsts that go along with those major life milestones. It has been hard over the years to be the first but felt fortunate that I could talk my friends through these milestones and offer advice and support.  I find myself again in the “first” position, but I now have my son’s friends’ parents – my friends – that are going through the same thing.  We can talk about it, cry about it, support each other, and they understand.  

Now don’t get me wrong. I know in my mind we are lucky.  He is healthy and able to go enjoy this time of his life.  A time for growth into the man he will become, but my heart aches. It was the right thing to do, he was ready to go but it doesn’t make it any easier.

You spend 18 years essentially “on” 24/7…taking care of them, protecting them and watching them grow. In a matter of hours you unload the towels, sheets, clothes, electronics, books…all the stuff they need to live AWAY from you for at least the next four years.  Granted they will come home for holidays, maybe summers and could possibly return home after college before finding that perfect job, but things are never the same.  I have been told this countless times by friends and acquaintances whose kids have gone.

I try to think about all those things he did before his departure that would drive me crazy like leaving his clothes all over the floor of his room and bathroom, leaving his dishes and glasses strewn about the house, dropping his shoes wherever he was standing instead of putting them away, having to be told to address these things over and over. I hoped that thinking about it would make it easier somehow to wrap my head around the fact that he wasn’t here and not make it hurt as much. It didn’t.

I guess this is an adjustment for everyone…the kids that are (hopefully) having the times of their lives at college and the family left behind.  I walked into our youngest son’s room the day we left for college drop off and tears were streaming down his face.  I whispered to him, “Forrest will be back.  He’s only going to be gone for a short while.  It’s okay to be sad, but don’t worry. He’ll be back soon.”  I really felt like grabbing him in my arms and crying with him…telling him how sad I was that his big brother was going to be gone, too, but I didn’t.  I had to be strong for everyone.

When we returned home, I felt okay. No tears had been shed. I showed our three kids that remained home the pictures and video of his dorm room.  I asked them if they wanted to talk about how they were feeling or wanted to share anything.  Everyone felt pretty okay with things…”like he was at work or on vacation.” Wow.  I wasn’t expecting that.

But I am glad that they are at peace with this change which will be especially bittersweet for our second oldest, Dalton, who shared a room with Forrest.  They are definite bros…in all senses.  They fight like brothers do but they also look out for each other and spend a lot of time together. They love many of the same things, and I predict this is going to be a strange year for Dalton.  Good in many ways so that Dalton is given that space and time to grow on his own; not in his brother’s shadow, but going his own way.

What do they say, “Change is good.”  I think that’s true.  As hard as it is to leave your baby 4 ½ hours away, it would be harder to keep them here not able to spread their wings.  It’s time to let the baby bird go and learn to fly on his own.  Soar, Forrest, Soar.

**I am here to tell you that as tough as graduation and the first year of college can be emotionally, it’s nothing compared to the frustration you feel the first summer after their first year away. Let’s just say the feelings expressed above were LONG gone when Forrest embarked for year two of college!  There is a light at the end of the “leaving the nest” tunnel!**