Last weekend, our first born left to spend most of the summer 3,000 miles away from home.
Tomorrow, our baby girl graduates from high school and will start college in the Fall.
I have been using the words “baby” and “girl” to describe our youngest of late, in Facebook posts and in conversations with friends. It isn’t intentional, but is most likely my subconscious speaking. Am I holding on too tight? Most definitely.
There is a sentence in the wonderful, yet quirky book I just finished reading that accurately captures what I am feeling. The protagonist is referencing her best, lifelong friend’s impending nuptials when she says, “It was predictable, of course, but…it was as if I had been strolling absentmindedly and banged into a door.”
Now, I wouldn’t exactly say that I have been strolling absentmindedly for my past twenty years as a mother. But I would say that the feeling of banging into a door on the verge of becoming an empty nester is fairly accurate. Frankly, it is causing me a little bit of angst. Can anyone relate?
In the book, the author’s use of the metaphoric door is intentional. A door is a symbolic image. Is it open (to change)? What does it mean if it is closed? Do safety, security and predictability only live on one side of the door’s threshold? Is the threat of change or fear itself exclusive to either side of the door?
There are so many figural thresholds we are asked to cross in our lives. Marriage or divorce, becoming parents, job transitions, illness or losing loved ones come to mind as some of the biggies. But let’s stick with parenthood for sake of discussion.
As a serial questioner, I found myself with a lengthy list of thoughts as I approached the threshold of becoming a parent, many of which lingered after I had crossed it. How was my relationship with my husband going to change? How would I transition from full time banker to culinary student to full time mommy? Would I enjoy staying home with my baby and would I make new friends in our town where we knew almost nobody? Would I be a “good” mother, the definition of which seemed to be the subject of constant internal and external debate. How would I stay relevant if not to others than at least to myself? How would I avoid becoming a suburban cliche? Would I be emotionally and physically available to the people who mattered to me the most, my children, my spouse and my parents?
If I look back at those questions, I see someone who believed that those elements of change, fear, safety, security and predictability were exclusive to one side of the threshold. As any parent can tell you, that is not the case at all. Some of those questions have been asked and answered on numerous occasions over the course of the past two decades. Somehow, we managed to survive intact.
So here I am, approaching yet another threshold, that of the empty nest. The idea of it is sometimes numbing, causing me to want to put on my robe at 4:00 and lay in bed (ok, I did it once and that was the end of that). Occasionally, I get weepy and wish my own mother was here to tell me everything is going to be just fine. My rational self thankfully prevails by reminding me that our children are doing exactly what they are meant to be doing at this moment in time, even if Mom and Dad are not invited along for the day to day.
While many of the questions I posed when originally becoming a parent remain relevant still, I know now that crossing this threshold doesn’t have to be a black and white experience. There is a whole lot of grey and all of those elements of change, fear, safety, security and predictability are tagging right along with me as we step over. Together we will coexist as we enter the next chapter. Katrina Kenison says it well in her book, Magical Journey. “Once we soften our grip on what’s over, accept time’s passing, and open ourselves to what’s next, there is something tremendously liberating about being exactly where we are.”
But for the moment, let me just reflect on some of the soundbites of the past two decades. Reflections not of a chef or a food blogger, but those of a Mom…
Bubble baths, binkies and Barney
Baby dolls, Polly Pockets and Barbies
Barrettes and big bows
Time for ballet! Pink tights and leotards.
“Please share with your sister.”
Matching outfits and shoes.
If you Give a Moose a Muffin and Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.
Pink and purple. Patrick, Trigger, Mumbles and all those Build-A-Bears.
Disney Princesses, we don’t discriminate.
“Please, please, please clean up your room.”
The Bluff and C-408.
Ok, ok, we can get a dog if you promise you will help.
Goodbye books, The Cake Walk, The Gym Show and The Fifth Grade Fair.
“Life is not fair (Dad).”
Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.
Sunday School and Bertuccis lunches.
Auditing the 5th grade D.A.R.E. program came from a really good place in my heart, truly.
“You got the part! I’m so excited for you.”
Summer camp, the good – the bad – the ugly.
Uno and The Game of Life
Soccer, softball and lacrosse games.
“If a friend doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, they are not a true friend.”
Piano recitals and the clarinet.
Peanut butter, sometimes jelly.
Easter egg hunts, Patriots Day Parades, Fireworks and Cookies for Santa.
“The higher the hemline, the lower the heel please.”
Brenda, Jill, Jess and Big O.
Dress up. Make Believe. Arts & Crafts.
“Quitting is not an option.”
You won the 4th grade spelling bee! Let me write that in your college file (just kidding).
Chicken and pilaf, racchette pasta with peas, chicken nuggets and smiley fries, Annie’s.
Scavenger Hunt, Drumlin Farm and Cooking Club birthday parties.
“If you just did it, we wouldn’t have to bug you to do it (Dad).”
Brownies and Girl Scouts. Cookies, cookies, cookies.
“Please drive carefully and don’t stay out too late.”
Lost at Park City, our family story.
Double order of spicy green beans.
“Are your applications done…yet?”
Gingerbread houses and American Girl Dolls.
Mom needs help with her iPhone again!
“We’re so proud of you.”
You want to be a vegetarian? We can work with that.
“We love you.”
Have you forgiven us for giving away the Barbie Jeep yet?
“We’re only a text away.”
“We know it’s time. You’re ready.”
“Fly, fly away and know that the nest will always be here for you.”
photo “cred” to our first born.
Until next week…
One Year Ago: Black Bean Burgers with Lemon Yogurt Sauce
Wonderful sentiments Val. I think I know a little of what you are feeling perhaps when we both have the empty nest ache, we can meet up for coffee and talk ourselves through it. Congratulations to your graduate and to your family – It’s no small feat to grow someone up and grow them up well. xo El
Thank you, Ellen. You definitely know what I am feeling and let’s meet up soon. Congratulations to your family too!
wow, as of August of this year I too shall be an empty nester. On the one hand I am grateful that – after a rough translation with my first, this is my “problem ” but like turning 40 and 50 – I feel like the WOLFE of this last year was (to some extent) wasted on the anticipation. And yet, and yet… Perhaps that’s how I needed to prepare for this. It for me Valarie, has been so sad, I’ve cried at car commercials on TV, it’s sad to be so dang predictable- my daughter calls Me”mid-life crisis ” Mom! No advice for you , but know you have made a home for your family, they will come home. Your Mother is watching over you and “kvelling” and your daughter’s – well pictures paint 1000 words – are thriving. And we will get through this. X0!
Elena, thank you so much for commenting on my blog! I love that we are back in touch again and appreciate all your wisdom! xo
So beautiful Val! You inspire me in the kitchen and out. When my nest is empty I know I too will come face-to-face with that inevitable “door”and will be grateful to have the support of a such a wise and compassionate friend who survived the bang before me. Thank you!
Love this – thank you, Francine.
Beautiful! Congratulations to all of you! xoxo
Right back at you, Suzanne! Congrats!
What lovely and poignant words, and you brought a tear to my eye more than once. May your “girls” be fully aware of and grateful for your unconditional love and ability to express all the joys of mothering them so beautifully. Congratulations, baby girl! xoxo
Thank you, Sarah. xo
Just beautiful! Congratulations to the whole Thayer family! A beautiful day for a graduation
Thanks, Marte! And congratulations to you too!
So touching! xo
Thank you, Ellen! xo
Congratulations on a job well done!
Thank you, Caroline!
This is perfect! Congratulations to your graduate and to you.
Thank you, my dear friend. Love you!