The Nest Is Half-Empty

I’m feeling kind of mopey after dropping Yenta Boy off at camp yesterday. I know I shouldn’t be. After all, a three-and-half week reprieve from a pre-adolescent smartmouth who’s obsessed with his hair contains a multitude of positives: No bickering! Half the laundry! Only having to cook for the one child who eats everything! No one stealing the good hair gel I bought at the salon out of my bathroom! A break from the hours of exasperated shrieks, dissonant chords and repetitious pounding as he picks out a new Top 40 song on the piano at 11pm!

Still, I can’t seem to shake the empty feeling. Maybe it’s because this year, instead of bravely holding back tears as we left him in the doorway of his screened-in bunk with his college-aged counselors, he gave me a half-squeeze and took off with his two camp BFFs from last year before I could admonish him to wear sunscreen. Actually, that made me kind of proud—it’s so relieving to see his independence unfurling like one of the giant rhododendron leaves that grows in our backyard.

And it’s not that I feel like he doesn’t need me anymore. The boy can barely open a can of tunafish and still needs to be reminded to look both ways while crossing the street; I’m pretty sure he’s going to require parental guidance well into his 40s. Sure, there was a certain level of neurosis on my part during the packing process (Did you pack the good sneakers? Pack the other pair, too, just in case someone puts toothpaste in them. No, you may NOT bring red Kool-Aid so you can touch up your dye job) but at least I wasn’t the mother shlepping the full-length mirror into the cabin.

Of course, there was the requisite Turning Over of the EpiPen to the nurse, just in case he gets bit by an army of ants and his histamines wig out. El Yenta Man enjoyed standing in line listening to two dozen Jewish parents list their children’s peanut allergies, bedwetting tendencies and the ramifications of skipping ADHD meds because it made him feel like maybe our family is fairly normal, after all.

I guess the boy’s absence in the house reminds me of the uncomfortable truth that our children aren’t really ours. Us mothers spend so much of our time and energy on our kids—they are literally our life’s work. Mothering places an indelible role on our identities, even when our presence isn’t needed on a daily basis. When we release them into the world (even to a place, as EYM pointed out to me, that has constant supervision, no traffic and is probably safer than being at home) there is fear that the worst can happen: Accidents, bad choices, a whole Pandora’s box of horrible possibilities.

My ragged emotions for sure are related to the sadness that a friend of mine lost her 16 year-old daughter last week. She was a smart, gorgeous, hilarious girl whose mother did that amazing motherly dance of protecting and allowing all at once. Still, there was an accident, a bad choice, an inexplicable outcome that no amount of prayer or extra sunscreen could prevent.

The family is fortunate to have an incredible support network as well as a deep spiritual foundation, yet even the most faithful among us would be hard-pressed to unblinkingly accept God’s will on this one. I have visualized feathery tendrils coming from heart to wrap around my friend 2000 miles away, a fierce mother who has made her marriage and three kids her life’s work. I have no words for her, really, other than to remind her that so much is out of our control in this life and that no matter what, she will always be a good mother. My deepest prayers to the Tropio family for calm, grace, peace and love as you move through these difficult times.

The best case scenario is that our children grow up, move out and make new babies that we get to kiss and dress up and worry about all over again. Bittersweet and mostly unfair, this mother thing. No matter how many times we tell them we love them or how many pairs of boxer briefs we write their names in or how hard we try to teach him to trim their nails so they don’t look like they’ve been eating with the other zombies, the fear never really goes away.

But faith is the salve of fear, and though my nest is half-empty, it’s also half-full. So enough hand-wringing for now: There’s a little girl clamoring at the keyboard excited to have her mommy all to herself for a few weeks who wants a pedicure. Neon pink it is, babes.

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