Thursday, August 23, 2007

Empty Nest Syndrome

I have more than one friend facing their child's departure. That's what happens when friends your age had kids in their early twenties. I'm going to have kids at Tranquil Pines with me. Alas. Children keep you young.... or do they put you in the grave?

It's a painful time for parents. I cried as I hugged my friend's daughter good-bye at church last week. Was I crying for her or for me? A bit of both, I think. Her lightening fast maturity strikes fear in my heart.

There's not much time.

Last week, my daughter said when I pointed out the "cool" Disney princess lunch box, "Mom, that's so babyish." Gasp. Just two years ago she hugged Cinderella with all the blind adoration of Ma Sheehan snuggling Hugo Chávez. I'm not ready for her to be over Cinderella.

After the death of my son, I determined to cherish every single solitary precious, even bleak, moment. It's really an attempt to slow down time. From learning colors to chapter books, time marches on. Reading the Rick Riordan book series with the kids, the Greek gods are brought to life. Kronos is locked away in Tartarus, and still causes all sorts of mayhem. Doesn't he always?

The cycle is as old as time, the pain universal. A child growing away so abruptly is one of those times that's disconcerting and shocking almost because everyone endures it. Child leaving is so banal.

When I had my children, I felt initiated into a secret society that operated in plain sight. The breath-taking love, consuming, desperate and so complete that the world seems vibrant and brand new, made me wonder at the dull inwardness I had lived until then. Suddenly, I felt more vulnerable and alive than I had ever in my life. You never told me, I said to my mom. Which wasn't exactly true. She told me. I just didn't get it.

Grandma says that it never gets easier, parting from your children. It gets harder as you get older, she tells me. That's what parenting is all about. Beginning a life so you can go through the process of making sure they're prepared to leave you. And if you succeed, your heart is broken. I'm quite sure my neighbor's heart attack was a direct consequence of his twin daughters moving across the country to fulfill their Ivy League dreams.

Good grief, I've made myself sick thinking a decade ahead. For now, prayers for all those enduring the empty nest. May you have strength and courage as you face the new era. As for me, I guess I need to take more joy in potty-training.

If you have tweens, they'll love these and you'll like making their acquaintance with the Greek gods:


Anonymous said...

This is a fear I am already dealing with on some level. Letting go is never easy...maybe mine won't want to leave. Although honestly, I'm not sure that is the best either. A friend of ours still lives with his folks...he is 44.

I'm glad I had my children at an older age. Some of my older friends were ready for their children to leave the nest. They were simply tired.

carol said...

Alas, I never got it (until it was way too late) and my mother didn't have the words to explain. I'm afraid that without religion, there is not a single rational, materialistic reason you can give a young woman why she should have children. It was all selfish or experiential.

It wasn't until I became Catholic that it occurred to me that God wants it that way, and that all the joys and sorrow and experience that follow from that are part of the bargain.

Some of us are just slower than others I guess.