* EditorÕs note: Debra is taking the day off. This column originally ran in August 2007.
Empty nest, empty nest, empty nest! If one more person attempts to soothe my anxieties about my youngest child heading off to college with that trite phrase, IÕll shriek.
ItÕs not about the nest! ItÕs about the little bird! I could care less about the nest. ItÕs my precious little chick flying off into a cat-infested world that IÕm worried about. ItÕs not a Òme hereÓ issue, itÕs a Òher thereÓ issue and, moreover, how IÕll keep her safe from every single thing on Earth if sheÕs there and not here?
I worry every time that girl leaves the house. I sit in the recliner with one eye open, and start speed-dialing her cell phone every five minutes at the stroke of midnight if she hasnÕt come through the door. ItÕs this obsessive compulsive worry that protects her like a magic bubble, I just know it. Two things: One, itÕs going to be a long stint in the recliner, from September until winter break, waiting for her safe return and, two, I hope that magic bubble can stretch all the way to San Francisco.
My baby moving away is so much more than mere anxiety about what itÕs going to be like when sheÕs no longer under my roof. ItÕs not just about her leaving home. I feel as if IÕm giving birth to her all over again, in a much larger, more abstract way. Before she was born, she was safe inside my body until she was ready to leave it. Since then, sheÕs been safe inside my home until she was ready to leave it. Instead of being delivered into my arms, now sheÕs being delivered out of them. The first time around, my arms were full. Now theyÕll be empty.
How did this day arrive so quickly, anyway? Just like when youÕre pregnant and it seems like youÕve been that way forever, so it seems with raising children. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you know theyÕll grow up and leave someday, but it seems like itÕll never actually happen.
And then one morning their bedroom floor is cluttered with cardboard boxes stuffed with books and CDs, photos, that old worn out stuffed tiger, their pillowÉ The towels and dorm room sheets are piled next to them. ItÕs really happening. TheyÕre really leaving. ItÕs all so surreal. WerenÕt they in diapers, like, last week? It still feels like I should be dropping her off for her first day at kindergarten, not college.
I knew the day for Janine to move out was coming, and I dealt with that fact in my usual constructive manner Ð I put it out of my mind. Which worked fine, except for the nights IÕd lie awake and stare at the ceiling, battling a full-blown anxiety attack. Now the move-in date at her dorm is literally days away and reality refuses to be ignored. The time has come. I can feel the contractions. SheÕs going to be born, whether IÕm ready or not.
I keep asking her if sheÕs interested in an 11th hour switch Ñ live at home and go to college nearby. The response is always a resounding Òno!Ó I wonder why sheÕs so anxious to leave. Maybe itÕs because I follow her around the house like a sad-eyed puppy and when she asks what I want, I say IÕm trying to soak her image into my brain while I still can. Maybe because I still check on her at night to make sure sheÕs still breathing, just as I did when she was an infant. Or maybe itÕs because I threatened to have the umbilical cord reattached so she could never get away. Yeah, that mightÕve been the kicker.
I want my daughter to stay with me forever. But itÕs not about me. ItÕs about her. I know she has to leave, just like she had to be born. If she never left my body, she would have died. If she never leaves my home, and me, sheÕll never live. At birth and now, she must separate from me to survive and grow. The most loving thing I can do is let her be born. Only this time around, IÕll be the one whoÕs crying. But, just like the first time, IÕll be so proud of the amazing, beautiful creature I had the privilege of delivering into the world.
ÒWhere are you going, my little one, little oneÉ where are you going, my baby, my ownÉÓ
Ñ Follow Debra DeAngelo on Twitter. Links are posted at and http://www.edebra.com http://www.wintersexpress.com. Find DebraÕs columns online at http://www.wintersexpress.com, http://www.edebra.com and http://www.ipinion.me