In Celebration of the Empty Nest
My 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, is loading her SUV with as much of her childhood as she can squeeze into the vehicle and still have room for the two of us. It’s three days past her high school graduation, and she’s getting ready to move out of state to attend cosmetology school.
We’ve just had her graduation party, a small gathering of neighbors and friends who have come to wish her well. And, it seems, to offer me their condolences.
“She’s moving already?” they marvel. “Why wouldn’t she want to stay for the summer?” And then, when they think she’s out of earshot, “How are you holding up, mom?”
I respond the way I think I’m supposed to. I roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders and sigh. “I’m okay.”
I feel compelled to lie about how I’m really feeling. Somehow, it seems coldhearted to say that I’m glad she’s leaving. It’s not that I want to be rid of her, but I’m grateful that she has the conviction to follow her dreams. But that sounds a bit like bragging. So I shake my head and accept condolences, pretend that I’m sadder than I am.
What I really want to say is that I’m thrilled. What I want more than condolences is commendation. What I wish just one person would offer is this. “You must be a great mom to have raised such an independent daughter.”
Really that’s all I’ve ever tried to do. Give my girls the confidence to stand on their own two feet. Not in a mean-spirited or critical way, but, I hope, in a nurturing way that gives them the skills to make their own way in the world.
Will I miss her? Of course. Will I still worry about her? Every day. But am I proud that she’s ready to spread her wings and fly? More than I can say.
I’m not afraid of the empty nest. I see it as a major accomplishment, proof that I’ve done something right in my life. I’m ready to wear it like a badge of honor that I’ve mastered one of the most difficult of life’s challenges. I’ve nurtured a human being from a helpless infant who relies on me for everything into a confident, productive adult ready to take her place in the world.
In the days following Sarah’s grad party, we sort through her belongings, relegating some items into bins in the basement. Stuffing the rest into her vehicle.
As we drive out of the neighborhood—her behind the wheel, me in the passenger seat— I watch our house disappear in the rearview mirror. I don’t see an empty nest at all, but rather a loving home full of memories, expanding to receive the many wonders that the next phase of my life will bring.
Jill Wilbur Smith received an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University. Her work has appeared in A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism, and on her blog, The Autism Fractal, which she co-authors with her oldest daughter. She lives in Minnesota with her husband. She has two grown daughters who are finding their way in life without her daily guidance.