Growing, Knowing and Other Big Revelations From a Soon-to-be Empty Nester

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My baby turned 18 last week.

I can practically feel my husband’s eyes rolling right now, but I bet there are more than a few moms out there who would agree with my description of a youngest child.

Funny how so many of us always refer to our youngest as the baby, especially since it seems like from the moment your baby first arrives in this world, we are focused on them growing up… “How much weight has your newborn gained?” “What a big boy you are!” “My how you’ve grown!”

My baby boy started out pretty big… 9lbs, 6oz big, and I grew that solid little hunk in my 5’ 1” frame. His older sister was a big baby too, at only one ounce lighter. Not surprisingly, 14 hours of labor with her ended with an un-planned c-section. Call it mother’s intuition or chalk it up to those strong karate chops inside my uterus, but I felt he was a boy from early on, and a big one at that. So no VBAC for me, doctor, thank you very much.

Since his birth date was planned, our trip to the hospital was uneventful and pain-free. I will always remember the drive though, because of the song playing on the car radio… “Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are?” It made us smile in anticipation of meeting this big baby who we both thought was a mister. And indeed he was. With those amusing lyrics never leaving our impression of that day, “Biggie” became our son’s nickname for the first few chunky-limbed, round-faced years of his life.

Now my big baby boy is officially an adult and heading off to college in the fall. And I find myself standing on the edge of a new phase of life, trying not to scramble backwards to the safe, comfortable past.

I’m a nostalgic person, often waxing poetic about my own childhood, meeting my husband in college, or funny things the kids said when they were young. So in anticipation of that empty nest appearing this fall, I have been making some last-ditch attempts at creating family memories for my kids. Unfortunately, illness, work and finances have taken turns crashing my latest potential memory-makers, and lately I’ve been left sad and discouraged that our cherished family times are gone.

These recent failures to create nostalgia-worthy moments have made me come to the realization that maybe a significant portion of my discomfort and melancholia over my children growing older is that I no longer have control over their lives. My husband would likely agree as he often calls me a control freak. I humbly suggest “hardcore planner” as a more apt description.

I like to plan things… travel, parties, special meals, family photo opps, etc. And, yes, I admit I can go a little Martha Stewart at times, but it’s all done in pursuit of what we like to call “warm and fuzzy memories.” I’m talking sweet little family memories that somehow carve themselves into the recesses of your mind where they happily dwell for decades before being drawn out by a waft of something on the stove, a few bars of music, or the prickly touch of whiskers with a goodnight kiss.

Raising teenagers and young adults means relinquishing the reigns and realizing you’re no longer in control of how they experience the world, relationships, happiness, sadness. You are no longer their filter of daily reality. You can’t find them a buddy to sit with on the bus. You can’t make sure they get enough sleep before a big test the next day. You can’t make them choose a family dinner over a movie with friends.

And once they go to college, you don’t even KNOW what you can no longer control. What did they have for breakfast (or DID they have breakfast)? Has someone special caught their eye? Are they taking something for that cough?

I think that may have been the biggest adjustment when my daughter went to university three years ago… the great “not knowing.” You no longer know what they are doing and where they are doing it on any given day. You can’t ask about their friend’s birthday or family vacation or if they sat together at lunch because you don’t even know who their friends are at first. After 18 years of knowing, it’s weird NOT knowing.

But you get used to the not knowing, and trust me there are times when it’s better to NOT know. Still, part of our kids’ growing means we have to grow, too. We have to accept that this little person who we have created and nurtured, marking every inch and milestone along the way, has grown big and smart enough to fly away. But I’ll take comfort in knowing that my warm and fuzzy feathered-lined nest will not ever really be empty because our love and memories will forever bind us together. And we can always find our way back to that.

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