All summer long I hid my empty nest feelings, suppressing them for the sake of my college bound daughter. She was nervous about leaving home and much to my dismay, as the summer began to wind down, she spoke about college as if she were being sent off to an orphanage. She loved Marist, it was on the top of her list. She immediately saw herself there the first time she stepped foot on the campus. But as it grew closer to leaving home she became Velcro, connected to my side.
With my husband at the helm my daughter and I stared silently out the car windows as we set out for the college campus. Our emotions were as tightly bound and overflowing as her residence hall belongings packed away in the trunk. The anxiety and anticipation in the car was palpable. My husband made a few failed attempts at humor but we were not amused-we were in some emotional zone, far, far away.
Nearing the end of the car ride my daughter quietly reached for my hand and pressed it to her forehead. No words were spoken-or needed. We were getting closer to the school. A minute later I received a text message from my friend Lena gently warning me to keep a stiff upper lip. Her daughter thanked her for being strong and encouraging when she was taken to college and Lena felt my daughter and I could benefit from her experience. Great advice, delivered at the perfect moment.
I did not cry when we said good bye…but I cried all the way home. My husband seemed surprised by my seemingly unexpected outburst of emotion. Throughout the rest of the weekend I spoke to other women who also cried after delivering their child to college much to the chagrin and dismay of their husbands.
Although I wouldn’t exactly be considered an empty nester with two kids still at home, my role as this child’s mother was to shift more than ever before. I knew it would be strange not to be a part of her daily life and I felt her absence before the car left the campus parking lot. From this point of reference is where my emotions spewed from throughout the ride home. My husband’s emotions were from a different point of view.
Men and women think differently. We are hard wired differently. Women multi task, physically and mentally. I always have multiple irons in the fire. All tasks and projects will get done but certainly not at the same time. My husband rarely walks away from a chore before it is completed…regardless of what’s going on around him. I wish I had some of that tunnel vision at times but mothers are programmed differently- multi-tasking is in our DNA.
My husband often accuses me of putting the cart before the horse. My response is that my cart has always been way ahead of my horse. I’m a woman, I look ahead. I predict, I assume, I prepare, I plan. I begin Christmas shopping in August whereas my husband is content buying gifts just days before.
Like many men my husband has full control of his emotions and keeps them securely tucked away…under lock and key… with an armed guard – it seems at times. I’m sure he wished I had an ounce of that emotional self control during our ride home from the college when he was captive in the car with me blubbering.
Perhaps my husband drove home that day with a sense of pride and accomplishment. As a man he stayed in the moment and that moment to him, represented success for both parents and child. As a mother, I saw the bigger picture and the changes on the horizon. Saying good-bye to her hit me like a brick and all the emotions about the present and the future flooded me with melancholy. The family dynamics in my house have changed and for this moment I was sad.
For a while my daughter called, texted, emailed, and sent me messages through Facebook-keeping me informed about everything in her life. Then one day the contact slowed down. Finally I got the bitter sweet message I had been hoping for. She loved Marist and was adjusting well. I could exhale.
My psychologist friend, Pierce Skinner put it best when he explained that empty nest may be a time of loss, especially for a mother, but is also a time of transformation and part of a personal evolution. It is a time for mother’s to reflect in a heartfelt fashion on the successful completion of this particular time in life. He believes a mother should celebrate her accomplishments at this stage in her life because we have achieved a personal triumph reaching the point where we have nurtured our children to this next, most amazing stage of autonomy – we have accomplished one of the greatest things that can ever be done. Turns out my husband’s reaction was spot on after all and not void of feeling.
As I make my own personal adjustments I hope to feel the same as he does one day. I guess in a broader perspective, it is not the end of motherhood. We mothers will still be needed by our children as the years go by, just in a different way.
For all you Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors…call your mothers.
Lori Price Sullivan