I dropped my youngest child off at the College of William and Mary and immediately fell into a hole of despair. With both sons in college, I knew that I would be a bit lost. I was not prepared for the crushing emptiness. The weeks before college were filled with hectic activity: buying clothes and other supplies, a family vacation, then the final packing for school. I barely had time to think or ponder what condition my personal world would be in after he left.
I was one of those women who thought they could have it all: a full-time job, a husband and children. I quickly realized I could not do everything and do all of it well. Things just did not fall into place with babysitters, and the expectations from my superiors at work became impossible to meet. I was being tugged in all directions and if my children became ill, or the babysitter found herself stranded in Atlantic City (which did happen on one occasion), I was faced with a crisis. When my husband's salary hit the magic number enabling us to pay bills and for me to stay home, I was relieved and happy to surrender myself to full-time motherhood.
It is surprising how fast one can shelve dreams and aspirations for a career when faced with assuring the well-being of one's children. I never regretted giving up all I had worked for. I simply loved being a mother. I realize that this is not for everyone but it was for me. Not one to let the grass grow under my feet, I organized play groups, helped at preschool, got involved in the neighborhood. I managed soccer teams, was class mother, was always on one parent-school board or another, and was active in the homeowners association. I never missed a game, concert or play. I was blissful being there, every day, when my children came home from school to hear the reports of how their days went. They were the center of my universe and I loved every minute of it.
Standing outside my son's dorm as he shifted from one foot to the other, impatient to begin his new life, I tried to think of more to say, more wisdom or advice to dispense, anything to delay the inevitable. One last hug and it was time to go. If I had been on a tether in space and the line had been cut, I could not have felt more alone. After 21 years of attending to my children's needs and care, I was out of a job. The phone stopped ringing. The e-mails for volunteer duties and school issues ended abruptly. On a trip to the grocery store, I would reach for a favorite drink or snack and it would dawn on me: There was no need.
I know I should be getting the house organized, but that doesn't offer distraction from my empty nest. The phrase doesn't even begin to describe the experience. It should be called something like: Your Life Has Come to a Screeching Halt Syndrome or God Help Me the Only Thing I Have to Look Forward To Is My Husband Coming Home From Work Syndrome or Oh No! It's Just Him and Me Again Syndrome. I have a terrific husband and the prospect of spending time with only him is not repugnant, just strange. We were both involved in our children's lives but of course he has a job and a purpose besides patting my hand, looking into my glazed eyes and telling me it will be all right.
So I decided that I would give myself one week to be sad, weepy, self-indulgent, and sleep till unheard-of hours on a weekday. I did all of that. The separation anxiety that hit me like a tidal wave has lessened. I realize that I have options. There are many things I can do; that woman who had direction and drive is still in me, somewhere. It will take time to rediscover my individual self but I feel confident that wonderful things are ahead. If I made a list of all the things I wanted to do but never had the time for, it would fill pages and pages. This new phase of my life is an opportunity for growth and adventure. My children will not be the adventure, but they will be a very special part of it.
Still, I'm counting the days to Parents Weekend.