We see that our lives unfold in chapters. Some fly by, some feel like ruts, some we hope will never end, and some we cannot get through quickly enough. If we can count on one thing, it’s change. Each chapter, with its joys and difficulties, will pass. As parents of growing children, if we’re lucky, we soon realize the pace of these passing chapters is much more rapid than we would have expected. As the last chapters of childhood come to a close, will we be ready for the transition that is both dreaded and celebrated? What does it mean for us? Who have we become while we weren’t looking?
Parenthood involves a bit of tunnel vision here and there as we prioritize where we should put our energy. The early days with an infant pass in a dreamy, ecstatic, sleep-deprived haze. We may lose all perspective for a while, as we never quite make it out of pajamas on some days. Our formerly carefully crafted self-image is history and it doesn’t seem to matter. Tunnel vision tends to happen during the school years as we, in the spirit of triage, hustle to maintain busy schedules putting out figurative fires as they occur. We try to enjoy the bright spots – the moments of humor or pride – but time doesn’t wait, so we cannot linger. While thus engaged, years can pass unnoticed. When finally we lift our gaze from the tunnel and look around, we are disoriented.
We all want the best for our kids. We help them to discover their goals and dreams when they’re young. As they move out into the world, we abdicate authority and, instead, accept the new role of guide or confidant. We must step back and allow our kids to make mistakes. We know that if we do not do this, our kids will never be fully self-sufficient.
As we approach the time for them to go, we mourn, though we can’t let them see. We mourn for the fleeting years, for the bonds of friendship and the laughter. We mourn for the companionship and the house full of noise and mess. We mourn for our lost chance to undo our mistakes. We mourn for the beautiful young parents we were, full of hope and idealism, a mere eighteen years ago – the blink of an eye.
The good news is that, invariably, anticipation of the empty nest is much worse than the chapter itself. When we don’t know what to expect, the loss is profound and the future is unrecognizable. As the nest actually empties, the truth is that it’s not so empty. Each child is different, so will use his fledgling wings accordingly, but most of us are regularly in touch with them. Happily, especially if college is not too far away, we get to see their faces more often than we expected. It’s thrilling to see the exponential growth and development as these young adults begin to come into their own without the direct input of mom and dad. As we adjust to a quieter household, we begin to remember ourselves again. We may actually enjoy an uninterrupted train of thought. We can look back on our lives and see that regrets are a waste of time. It’s been a beautiful mess and it’ll continue to be, just in a different chapter.