Jul 29, 2022
9 mins read
I knew when my oldest child moved out I would struggle. I have been telling people for about a year, that it was going to be hard.
And now the days are ticking down and it's like: SO MUCH HARDER than I thought it would be and I am in agonies and I feel my brain and body pulled into this black hole and there's just nothing, nothing I can do about it but let the grief come.
I can feel it, like a tidal wave.
It's going to knock me down.
You know what's funny. MANY years ago when I had older friends struggling with the empty nest - sorrowful that their child(ren) had moved out and moved on - I tried to be empathetic and understanding - but was I?
Because I remember thinking - especially when it came to those "mom types", you know the ones: the women we love to disparage for being overly-domestic (and yet our entire culture is built on their invisible and unappreciated and unpaid labor but, you know) -
anyway in my pre-parenting years I was sympathetic in my way but in this tiny part of me, way way deep down I now know I held this little belief:
"You're sad because you didn't build a life for yourself. You built your whole life around being a mom!"
I feel terrible even admitting this. But I was ignorant, that's all. And I'd been habituated to my culture, and my second-wave feminist Boomer upbringing.
I mean there are so many things wrong about this "you are suffering now because you're 'just a mom'" - like an entire truckful, let me just name the top three:
First, hardly anyone ever builds their life around just one principle or identity. Second, I had no right ever to assume this about someone else - as if their pain was their fault! And third: well if so, so what? I mean we aren't shitty about a man putting his Everything into a career. But we're shitty about women who do this as mothers.
So yeah: I was wrong about all that.
But now I have another data point to add to the mix.
Building a life won't protect you from the pain of empty nest. As it turns out.
Because I built a WHOLE-ASS LIFE, I built an art practice and two businesses and a Recovery life. And I have a wonderful marriage with a person I respect, esteem, and desire. I am a member of several thriving communities and I have some amazing, amazing friendships, and I co-host two podcasts and I teach yoga, and I built a volunteer ethos and a meditative practice and a Creative career and I continue to take classes and courses and deepen my personal spiritual, mental, emotional, and spiritual practices -
and I am still being torn apart by grief.
Because my Beeps is leaving.
I should state the obvious (well obvious if you know me, anyway): I am very very careful not to speak my hurt in earshot of either of my sons. They don't read this blog, for instance. And I take great pains to bitch and complain about this kind of stuff only when they're not around.
In fact I haven't shed one goddamned tear in front of them. Although I've felt those tears sting in my throat!
I promise, it's not that I think my pain is shameful or embarrassing.
It's not that I think it would be wrong if I let them see me cry.
It's just: my sons need the absolute freedom to do what's best for them. Holy shit, this is the exact future their father and I hoped for them! This is what we worked for! We wanted them to build their best life, and make their own dreams, and select their own path. We wanted them to know we would be supporting them - financially, physically, emotionally and mentally - and with every bit of love and ferocity in our bones!
Job well done!
If I were to truly unload the many terrible thoughts I'm having and the emotional pain I'm feeling I fear it would just confuse them. Worse: it could make them feel guilty. My sons look up to me a great deal. And no matter how blissed-out and empowered and insightful we (think we) are as parents, there's some kind of biological bullshit going on where our children too often feel responsible for our happiness. At least, many children do.
I can't take that risk. I can't let my own utter emotional fall-apart poke a hole in my son's new vessel, ship-shape at dry-dock, about to launch into the harbor.
Guess what, this means I am going to talk about it here.
This means I'm going to get in my own rickety dinghy and make some noise and splash the oars. Because I'm not the first nor the last person who's going to go through this despair. And maybe you've not gone through it or maybe you never will, but there's someone out there who is reading this who will find my post helpful.
Beeps do you remember the night your brother was born, do you remember when you weaned, do you remember when you cut your toe with that enormous axe you were wielding in the garden, do you remember when you had a fever and you fell asleep in the hospital bed listening to Cat Stevens' "Trouble" on my headphones, do you remember when we rode thirty-one miles on our bikes to campout together by ourselves? Do you remember the horrible, huge locust you so deftly and gently caught and named CHOPPY, and enthused for me to look in its flat, alien eyes and you spoke with so much tenderness for this tiny monster? Do you remember your epic bike crash down the hill and how I carried you home and tucked you into the bath and your lip puffed up and Harris the stripey grey kitty came to comfort you? Do you remember when you went to summer camp and you were so little but you toughed it out and didn't call home once, and when we showed to pick you up your cheeks flushed with gladness that we were there and in that moment I knew you'd missed us so? Do you remember your first breakup and the second breakup and do you remember how you held your head up and it took my breath away? Do you remember your first day of college at age thirteen? Age thirteen, shit, how did you do it?
Do you remember when you were very small and your tummy hurt and you'd tell me to to give a talking to that one mean germ? I'd hold you gently and whisper threats into your soft belly, threats you could barely hear - we could both picture that one mean germ in there giving you all that trouble!
Do you remember when you taught yourself to "read" when you were so small, so small, two and a half years old but you could memorize and "read" aloud with perfect cadence in your small, exact lisp and your father and I in the living room next door over, our eyes would fly to meet one another's and we'd laugh quietly because it was so amazing?
You were so amazing every day of your life!
Do you remember the pet parade when you caught that very, very large spider and named him "Bathtub" and proudly marched him, glass jar held aloft?
Do you remember helping me make pumpernickel bread in the fifties kitchen on Eklund Avenue, the steam from the oven and the breakfast nook we had in that bright kitchen, still my favorite we lived in?
Do you remember when we traveled all the way to Lake Quinault and I caught you tadpoles and we had lunch at the lodge then went home and the next day you solemnly told me we shouldn't have done that and we needed to go back to that exact pond and return them, every last tadpole back to her home?
And we did.
Why did you grow up and leave me, why do you no longer need these things but I've wrecked my heart on these treacherous rocks, these memories, they are an indelible part of me that set a snare and seeks to destroy me now? Why did I think there was a safety and a solace in caring for you when the day would come and time would turn against me, smirking and I'm helpless to do anything about it?
It's like: why does this hurt so bad? And why could I do nothing to prevent how much it would hurt? I started thinking about this several years ago and I tried to do something about what was coming, I tried to toughen myself up and I told myself the TRUE STORY that this was what was meant to happen and this was what was best for everyone.
But why does it hurt so much anyway?
And why did it happen so fast?
My son Phoenix will be entering into advanced biology, math, physics and chemistry as he earns his bachelor's in Marine Biology. He'll be about four and a half hours' travel time away from me, studying at a solidly progressive university. He has a very hard academic tour ahead of him. But he'll thrive - because he's motivated, intelligent, deeply kind, and connected to his own inner values.
He's going to have the most amazing time and meet the best people and travel to places I've never been.
With him when he moves he'll take so many beloved garments I've designed for him and crafted him him over the years, he'll take his iPad and Cintiq drawing tablet and gaming system, he'll take a care package I've been arranging (shhh! Don't tell!), he'll take his various horror movie posters and all the custom blankets and bedding I've made him. We'll pack him a new bed and desk and all the things he needs, we'll go shopping for housewares together and get him outfitted, he'll feel that pride of place and he'll have savings and he'll have us to support him any way he needs.
And when he's gone I'll tidy up his room and make it special and add a few lovely things so when he visits his space is still "his" and he feels invited and loved.
I won't be converting his room to something else and if someone wants to stay over, I won't just volunteer his space either. It's still his space.
I'll text him like we do and we'll somehow watch our horror movies together online - and who knows how much or how little time he will make for that.
He'll fly high.
And I'll fly too.
I just can't see it yet. For myself.