Letting Go: Reflections from the Almost-Empty Nest
Yesterday, as my dog Emma and I took our morning stroll, we passed a boy playing catch with his father. This vignette triggered buried memories of hours spent in similar fashion when Mick was a kid. Over time, I learned to throw lefty and catch righty, developing some speed and accuracy along the way.
I had forgotten all about Mick’s short softball career. It’s probably because he ended up concentrating all his formidable abilities on basketball. Due to Rafi’s long hours at work, I became the designated sport parent. It was important to Mick that I understood the game, and to him, that meant learning by doing. Merely cheering from the stands was not an option. After endless games of H-O-R-S-E, we graduated to one-on-one. He didn’t have much to work with, to begin with.
Ultimately, I enjoyed playing so much that I participated in lively weekly pick-up games with females of all ages, virtually all of them young enough to be my own kids. I found it immensely satisfying, spending an hour running the court without either collapsing or making a total fool of myself. It made me contemplate what my life might have been like had I chosen to be sporty myself rather than living vicariously through athletic boyfriends. Mick made me see that we can step outside the way we see ourselves in bold and creative ways. That realization has had many positive spinoffs – including OpEdNews and my writing career. Who knew that having a son could be so much fun, and educational!
Now, that same son is set to fly the coop, making me that dreaded cliché – the empty nester. He leaves town this Friday. I had the date, October 10th, circled in my Filofax and embedded in my brain and yet somehow when he reminded me that he was leaving this week, I was startled, a bit taken aback. I'M NOT READY! Am I?
It’s not like I haven’t been through this before. Kids leaving the nest, going off to college, coming home on break or for holidays. I survived it then and I’ll survive it now. We parents start out envisioning family in a fairly static way. Later, it takes on a more elastic quality, expanding and contracting to reflect the rhythms of our comings and goings, the ebbs and flows of our collective lives. Michael is the last one, our baby. That makes this time somehow different – more final, infinitely more poignant.
This is a period of great transition and introspection for me. We have another Big Election coming up. How do we see ourselves as a nation and whom do we feel best reflects that vision? Equally important: what is stopping us from exercising our franchise and what can we do about it? Then, there’s sports. Even I am not immune to the fact that, up until last night, both Chicago teams – the White Sox and the Cubs – were in the playoffs. Unless you are way over 100 years old, this has not happened before in your lifetime. In fact, Haley’s comet appears more frequently. The last time Chicago pulled this off, was the year of the great San Francisco earthquake, 1906. The world was a very different place then. Ford’s revolutionary Model T had not yet rolled off the assembly line and onto the road.
After last night, we no longer face the quandary of picking which team to root for, in a hypothetical Chicago vs. Chicago World Series. Some families would surely have been ripped apart in the process. We Chicagoans are extremely loyal and take this whole subject very seriously. How else would you explain our willingness to back a team that so consistently breaks our collective heart, year after year, even after a really strong start?
Across America, kids start throwing the ball around almost before they can walk. Impromptu ballgames pop up in back yards, school playgrounds, in our parks, on the streets. Then, there are all those league games throughout the years. If the players show enormous promise, they may go on to play in college, and if they’re really, really good, in the minor leagues. Once in a blue moon, they progress to the Major Leagues, bringing along with them all that practice, training and experience. Hopefully, they retain the values of hard work and humility that got them there. Then, they can enjoy the fruits of their labor without letting the promotion go to their heads.
Likewise, graduation is called commencement to capture that paradox of a simultaneous beginning and ending. Mick is moving ahead to the next stage of life, taking along with him all the good habits, values and experiences that he’s accumulated along the way. That, plus some good luck, should get him off to a fine start. I’m not planning on moving, renting out his room, or turning it into a sewing or exercise space. So I’ll look forward to his periodic pit stops – to refuel, recharge his batteries, and catch his mother up on his doings.
I can no longer carry this former little guy on my hip. It's humorous to even imagine it. Likewise, I can’t freeze time. I think I had the flashback at the park yesterday to gently remind me of the large reservoir of happy memories I do have to draw on and savor. My house will be infinitely emptier and quieter. On the other hand, my grocery bills will shrink and our laundry will no longer be dominated by copious amounts of very soggy, and quite fragrant attire. I am going to work at gracefully greeting this next chapter, where Youth leaves home, finding adventure, and himself along the way. If, in the end, he concludes that his parents weren’t as bad as he had thought, and in fact, a whole lot better, I will consider myself doubly blessed.