Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…

This series began eight years ago when, on June 26, 2010, I sat down and emptied my head of the many thoughts swirling on the topic of “empty nest,” which, in my case (at that moment), involved the strange polarity of being the terribly proud parent of a graduating high school senior, while starkly aware that my child’s next move took him out the door. Unfathomable.

Empty Nest Syndrome was not  something I took all that seriously in the early years. People made jokes about it; some friends referenced their experiences with chagrin, others denied it was even a thing. When it came my turn, it struck like a tsunami.

No matter how rational thought defines this moment in a family’s life—”it’s perfectly natural,” “it’s the next logical step”; “a chance to see your kid fly”— irrational thought says sending your kid off on his own after eighteen years of deeply-felt all-hands-on-deck involvement was nuts. For me it was like losing a limb: I ultimately learned to function without it, but never stopped feeling it should still be there.

But rather than reiterate the roller-coaster unfolding of that momentous transition, I’ll refer you to Parts 1-5 of the series starting HERE, where the ups, downs, triumphs and heartaches of this maddening time were noted. As for now—this final chapter—I wanted to reflect a bit in conclusion, to bring this series to a proper close as I help the man my son has become choose area rugs and decide which couch best fits the parameters of his new apartment.

I’m a lucky parent: I have a strong, enduring marriage with a good man who’s a good father, and a child who’s both a delight and the single most amazing aspect of my life. I have few parenting regrets (there was that outburst with the spilled apple cider, and the bowl cut was unfortunate), and if the testament of successful parenting is a successful child, my husband and I win first prize. So I approach this final letting-go with, yes, a lump in my throat but the humble satisfaction of feeling parentally accomplished.

But there’s still the matter of someone you love stepping further from your life, and, regardless of their assigned role, there’s sadness in that.

As adults, we gauge and shift within our peer relationships with a sense of continuity, a certain predictability. We, they, may grow and change in any variety of ways, but we’re fully-formed people by then, and those changes are usually subtle and nuanced. Friends have no reason to leave, to move out, to go off on their own simply because that’s an inevitable part of development. The good ones stay, the birthday celebrations pile up; you grow old together.

With our children, the exact opposite is true. Every day, week, month, year brings a new person into our midst—physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally—and, as parents, our job is to adjust and change as our child requires. What the five-year-old needs is a far cry from the fifteen-year-old, or the twenty-five-year old, and we are obligated to sort out how to be the right parent for the right age. But five, fifteen, or twenty-five, and despite the profound changes that come with child-to-adult transitions, our love and attachment sustain. Which makes their departures, their distancing, their independence, heartrending.

In my case, it’s very simple: I enjoy my son’s company. Not just as a parent, but as a person, a friend. He’s smart and aware; he makes me laugh, introduces me to new music, discusses politics with verve. He’s as good a friend as any I’ve got; he tells me this is mutual, and the ease he clearly feels with me and his father makes sharing a space an easy, natural thing to do. So when some people seemed surprised that he was still at home at twenty-five, I felt I had to explain; to assure them he wasn’t some launch-challenged millennial in dirty pajamas playing video games in a crusty bedroom yelling, “Ma, I need a sandwich!”

In fact, the “cool roommate” he was in his younger years only expanded in the post-college era: he continued to be entertaining and companionable, and he paid his own way, did his own laundry, cleaned his own room; even kept our technology in top-running order. Who wouldn’t appreciate a roommate like that?

I saw this post-college year as a bonus, one we didn’t expect, as he, first, looked for a job; got one at an engineering firm nearby, then transitioned to a much better engineering firm downtown, and while he wasn’t around all that much—girlfriend, sports, game nights with buddies—the warm moments around the dinner table or those Q&A sessions after watching Westworld (I mean, wth?) were precious. I took not a one for granted, and chose not to think about when they, too, would end.

But they did. When he finally announced, after a year of commuting from the beach to downtown LA (dear Lord…), that he was ready to find his own place within walking distance of work, I knew we’d reached the last rite-of-passage: the final move-out. It inspired a tear, a lump, and an acknowledgement that we were there, but it was so inevitable that it struck gently. Softly. Empty Nest Lite.

Maybe because I so well remember when I first set out on my own. My family life was very different from my son’s, my exit far more fraught, but that sense of independence, of staking a claim to adulthood—from picking the apartment, to finding furniture, towels; pots and pans, feeling fully responsible and free to create whatever life I chose—was equally as exhilarating. I could vicariously feel his excitement at the novelty of autonomy, of planting himself somewhere he’d never lived, opening himself to explore and experience new things. It’s heady; I remember.

So when the day came, we pulled his stuff from storage—the college items, the great pieces saved from our Humboldt house, the selections from his room—and headed to his beautiful, sparkling apartment in a downtown high-rise with windows facing west and a view of the vibrant city and ocean beyond, and helped him start his new life.

I was so focused on the tasks at hand, so impressed by his good taste in the place he’d chosen, so anticipatory of having reason to spend more time in the city, so relieved the move went fairly smoothly, that nary a lump was had the whole day. I felt only that my husband and I had launched our beautiful boy with confidence, knowing he is solid in who he is; joyful in his career, clear about his priorities, and committed to an honorable life.

As my dear friend said, “You did good.” We did. We all did. He’s still deciding on a couch, I’m working on my next book; hubby is taking care of business. Life rolls forward, we breathe… growing up, letting go, and finding new ways to build history.

Of course, this wireless router will now have to be managed without his patient tutelage, but I guess we old folks have to learn and evolve just like everyone else! Dammit. ☺

The End


All photos by permission of LDW. Truck photo by Marilyn Perez.

To read the entire series, click below:

• Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost

LDW w glasses

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye

Dillon In Motion

There seems to be a pattern here: he grows up in a fly-by blink, goes off to achieve higher education; comes home for long summer breaks, but is then compelled to return to that other place he lives that is not here… not home. Though he tends to refer to it in such terms, I’d like to think that’s because no one’s there harping about laundry and keeping the bathroom clean.

It’s interesting how many times and ways you say good-bye to a child throughout their life. It seems to go on forever and maybe that’s the point: that the process of parenthood is evolutionary practice for letting go of so many other salient, important things… even life itself. I don’t know; that may be too heavy! But whatever else you can say about it, parenting is fraught with the demand to find balance between loving and letting go, and it always seems to find newer and ever more complex ways to test you at that.

It starts early, the pulling away; about the time of toddlerhood, when that three-year-old suddenly puts their foot down about a whole host of things (literally and figuratively). This streak of independence leads to the longer days of kindergarten, full-time grade school with after school programs; then middle school with its natural drift from family to friends, high school with more of the same (including, now, the full-time passion of puberty), all leading up to what one friend’s child called “really big boy school,” college, where all of life twists into the practice version of their truly leaving home. Brutal. Freeing. Confusing. Exhilarating.

In looking through my series on Empty Nest Syndrome (links below), I realize we, here, really are well past that initial rite of passage. He’s into his fourth year of a five-year program and if we hadn’t figured out by now how to gracefully transition from those long summer breaks to the exodus back to school, we’d be in trouble, because the next phase is fast approaching. The Actual Adult phase. When they move out, get a job, get their own place, maybe relocate to another city, fall in love, start building a life… on their own… no strings attached… no “breaks” to assuage the pang of missing them at the dinner table or seeing their bedroom messy, lights on and… occupied.

Me n' Dill 1998-9

Yes, we’re good at this latest transition. We barely blink. He packs up his car for the umpteenth time and heads north with nary a look back and before he can even make the turn onto the freeway, I’m into my day, to my work, to my own life; focused, driven… and with a big, fat, breath-choking lump in my throat. Goddamnit. Why does this still hurt??

Because, at least for me, lucky me, this person, beyond being my son, is one of the best friends I could possibly have. That person who walks into a room and lights up the place. Who sits on the couch and shares idiotic videos he’s sure I’ll find hilarious (and I do). The guy who listens and converses like an interested adult when we take long drives or get caught in traffic. Who introduces me to new hiking paths, turns me onto songs he claims “you’re gonna love,” brings home Pinkberry unexpectedly, or checks in on nights he knows I’m alone and a little blue. That kid. One likes having that kid around. And yet, he has to keep leaving…

I don’t cry anymore when he does. Sure, I tear up if I think about it for too long, but I’m busy enough and good enough at self-soothing to just get on with it. And, besides, we’ll be going up for Homecoming, he’ll be home for Thanksgiving, there’ll be that long Christmas break and, well, we still have a few semesters left. That bedroom will continue to be occupied for a bit longer, time we’ll cherish.

Because we know that, too, will end. And when that last grasp of childhood is finally exhausted, and he goes off as the grown man he is, responsible for his own life, I will feel that next layer of peeling away, of letting go; of saying good-bye. Seeing him off to his own house, with his own dinner table and his own bedroom. I can’t picture it yet, I don’t have to… yet… but it’s coming. Just like every other phase of his growing up has come and been embraced, however mixed the emotions. I will deal, as I always do. But, wow. Loving a child is a wild ride.

Drive safely, sweetheart. Stop if you get tired, check in when you can, don’t text and drive, and do good this semester. We love you and will see you soon. Bye, bye….(damnit, I can never find Kleenex when I need it… )

Me n' Dill 13

Younger Duo photo by Dean Fortunato
Older Duo photo by Ben Chandler
Skateboard photo by LDW

To read the entire series, click links below:

Empty Nest Pt 1: My Very Cool Roommate Is Moving Out…
• Empty Nest Pt 2: Empty ‘Next’ Syndrome…Coming Home
• Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!
 •Empty Nest Pt. 4: He’s Leaving Home AGAIN… Bye Bye
• Empty Nest Pt. 5: It’s a Wrap… Well, Almost
Empty Nest Pt. 6, the Final Chapter: With Keys In Hand, He Flies…
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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.