When Alex went to college, I was prepared to miss him. I was so prepared, so determined not to cry when we left him, that I didn’t cry at all, apart from tearing up a little once in the van twenty miles away.
I was fine when Vicky moved to St. Louis to go to school. I had my writing and my volunteer work at the church. She came home two or three times a month for real food and laundry facilities. While I enjoyed getting caught up on her life and taking care of her for a few hours, it was a relief when she piled her laundry baskets in her car and waved good-bye. The house was quiet again.
Then Eric got laid off. We were enormously relieved when he was offered his current job. I threw myself into sorting and packing. It was a stressful three months. I knew it would be a relief to finally get everything moved so I could settle into the new normal.
It wasn’t a relief. Everything in my life except the cats and Eric was unfamiliar–the neighborhood, the incessant noise from the road next to our apartment, the snow–dear Lord, how could I ever have been happy to see it snow? Why was I excited about the lake effect again?*
One day, I was unpacking a box and ran across a passport. I opened it to see whose it was, and Alex’s 13-year-old face looked back at me. I lost it. Full-on, instant ugly crying. It wasn’t just that I was in a new place. I was there without my kids.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m getting help and working through the grief. That’s what it is, too. I’ve touched on this before–I was grieving my old life before our final move.
I’m writing this for my friends who have kids in or going to college. Don’t think you get over it and move on. There may come a time when something changes so much or so fast that you realize your old life is really over. You invest all those years nurturing your babies–the sleepless nights, the fights and broken hearts and tears, and then they’re off on their own adventures and you’re left wondering how it happened so quickly.
Whether you were a working mom or a stay-at-homeschooler, you’re going to have regrets. You’re going to miss the pudgy toddler. It’s okay. You don’t let go overnight. I’m not sure you ever completely let go at all.
*Almost without exception, when people find out I moved here in January, they apologize for the weather and promise me this is the worst winter they’ve ever seen here. The city can be scary, but the people have been really nice.