It’s August 1, 2016. Otherwise known as the first day of the month in which I become an Empty Nester.
A couple of weeks ago, an older couple came into the shop where I volunteer. (They were actually about my age, but whatever, okay? Just whatever.) As I was ringing up their cranberry orange cinnamon rolls, we began small-talking about kids, and when I mentioned that my youngest is heading off to college in the fall, they were all, “You’re going to be an empty nester! You’re going to looooooooove it.”
You know what I thought as I handed over their change and wished them a happy day? I thought—and this is not a joke—”Your kids must be assholes.” Because that’s the only circumstance under which I imagine I would looooooooove being an Empty Nester.
I just really, really like my kids, okay? Even when they accidentally smash a dinner plate in a gazillion pieces and post the evidence to Snapchat without giving me a heads up—and then “LOL” when I ask about it. Even when they spill three-quarters of an Orange Julius on the floor of their car. Even when they eat the last piece of DQ ice cream cake. Even when they leave their shoes all over the house. Even when they make fun of my inability to remember anything. Even when they put the good knives in the dishwasher again. Even when all of that happens in three or four days (because it totally did).
My girls are incredible. They’re strong-minded young women with yuge emotions and ginormous hearts and yes they can be ridiculous and frustrating and crazy-making but HELLO so can everyone (especially me), and in two weeks, they’re outta here.
I know they’re “just” going to college. I know they’ll be within easy driving distance. I realize it’s not like they’re getting married and moving across the country. I know we’ll still see each other a lot. I know we have many, many amazing moments ahead of us. I know, I know, I know. That’s all true.
But here what’s also true: The most meaningful thing I’ve ever done is be my girls’ mom. And while I recognize that work’s never really finished (just ask my poor mother), we’re certainly at the end of the first movement. And because I’ve been choking in a smog of Not Good Enough for weeks and weeks and weeks (in regard to any and all areas of my life), the looming Empty Nest is even more suck-iful than it might otherwise be.
Are my girls going to be okay out there? Yes, of course they are. But will they do well because of me or in spite of me? What words will they use to describe me to their friends? (Neurotic is very likely among the top three.) Have I taught them enough of the best things? Can they sew on a button? Do they know what to do if they have a flat tire on the highway? Will they choose kindness? Do they know that apple seeds contain cyanide, so they should avoid eating them? (Okay, they’d have eat an orchard full of them to do any harm, but still.) I know they’ll make mistakes, but will they be recoverable ones or disastrous ones? Is it possible they’ll be both? Will they feel content? Will they care for people and still remember to care for themselves? Will they say “Yes!” to the best adventures and know when it’s okay to say, “Not now” or “Not ever”?
Did I mention this is really tough?
In two weeks—the night before Emily moves into her own apartment near SLU and three days before Bekah’s first day in her dorm at Millikin University—the Hartnett/Ford clan is going bowling. We won’t be going to the fancy-pants place with the lazer tag arena and the overpriced food, though. Nope, we’re going to the frumpy place on the north side of town—home of “bowling alley fries” and disastrous carpeting (which, sadly, has been replaced since we were last there). We spent many Family Friday Fun Nights at this spot, and it seems like the perfect way to say goodbye to season one of parenting.
And even though the girls are 18 and 20 years old, we’ll use the bumpers. It’s my last chance to keep them safe them before they fly.