It Is What It Is: When your last child flies
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been dreading writing this column for years. Like, years. About 18, to be exact. Because I always knew that the day I sat down to write it would signal my youngest daughter going off to college and ultimately heading out on her own. And exactly like I predicted the day she was born, I’m just not ready.
And here’s why.
The thing is, I love being a mom. That’s the simple truth. As crazy as it seems, I love being on call 24 hours a day. I love being the one managing all the annoying stuff like the chauffeuring and the cooking and the laundry and the getting gum out of people’s hair. And I also love being the go-to for the big-ticket stuff like pep-talking and refereeing sibling fights and supporting my girls through all the highs and all the lows of growing up. And I’m just not sure I’m ready to give it up on the daily, ya know? Because once everyone’s out of the house, that routine-type stuff stops. And there’s a big old empty space where all the kid stuff used to be, making it a hard and often painful stop.
Yeah, sure, a lot of the day-to-day parenting stuff we all do is tedious and grating and makes us want to bash our heads against a really hard wall, but there’s also meaning and purpose and joy in all that stuff too, because the people I’m taking care of are my people. And there’s no greater happiness than the kind that comes from nurturing and loving and caring for your people.
See, I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved putting baby furniture together with those teeny tiny Allen wrenches until my fingers cramped. And I loved pumping milk those first six months, even though I leaked through every good top I owned (biggest my boobs ever got, though, so I consider that a win, all things considered). And I loved pretending that my right hip was slightly lower than my left from two kid’s worth of weight on it for so many years. And I love the way the name Mom sounds coming out of my kids’ mouths. And I’ve felt this way since my very first day behind the wheel.
Even now, over 20 years and two kids later, I cherish all the things I did that made me their mom. Even the stuff I hated, odd as that may sound. But I just can’t help myself. I loved all the tedious, boring stuff that made us want to sneak into a witness protection program — stuff like rocking your shrieking baby for endless hours in the middle of the night. Or waking up to start a brand-new day 17 minutes after you finally fell asleep. Or making over 4,000 school lunches and giving just as many baths and telling just as many bedtime stories. Or scrubbing the dark smudges of eyeliner out of the carpet under your daughter’s desk. Or the burning smell of the straightening iron after it’s been plugged in too long.
I guess when you’re in the thick of it for so many years, with what seems like an endless number of years and grades and milestones still ahead of you, you never really expect to get to the end of the runway where all that’s left for them to do is fly off into the sunset. It always just seems so far away. And then, one day, it isn’t. Then, before you turn around, it’s tomorrow and the car is packed, and the dining dollars are loaded onto their campus food service account, and you can’t seem to look them in the eye without feeling like the lump in your throat is so big you may never swallow right again.
Well, today is that day for me. And even though it’s a day I’ve lived through before with my oldest, that was different because she was our first and we had a whole other kid still at home to help break our fall.
With our youngest, though, there are only crickets when we get back to the house after Move-In Day. There are no more kids to take care of, only us and the cat. So everything will be in the exact place we left it before we walked out the door. The laundry basket will be sparse and there’ll be no wet towels to scoop up from the bathroom floor. No music bleeding through the walls of anyone’s bedroom and no trail of coats, backpacks, or shoes stretching through the house. And no one across the hall to yell goodnight to every night. And I don’t like it. Nope, I don’t like it one single bit. But it is what it is. And it’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. And I know that, somewhere deep down inside. It’s what we signed on for waaaay back on that very first day when the doctor handed us our kids. This is the stuff that was written in the fine print on the very bottom of the Parent Contract the day we enlisted. And it’s the stuff that every one of us has had to deal with since the beginning of time.
But we’re designed to handle it. All of us. And even if we, as parents, don’t know exactly what comes next when our kids leave the nest, instinct kicks in — just like it did when we became parents — and we figure out how to take care of ourselves again. I mean, too many other parents throughout history have managed to figure it out, so I’m sure Dave and I will too.
So, I’m gonna sulk for a while if it’s all the same to you. Cause when our youngest finally goes, and that last cord gets cut, it leaves an open wound. And wounds that ooze like that kind does takes time to scab over. But, thankfully, they do scab and they do heal. With time. Fortunately for me and all the rest of us, though, once a mom, always a mom. So even though the day-to-day may look and feel a lot different, I know that I’ll still always be on active duty. And I will be until the end of time. And I’m ok with that. I’m 110 percent totally ok with that.
— Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, Hot Moms Club, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.