The parents of my younger daughter’s classmates — the ones who all have children graduating from high school in a few weeks — talk incessantly with me about our impending empty nests, as if in a single moment, one day in August when I walk in the door after dropping my youngest kid off at college, my life will suddenly be forever changed.
You might as well say the Titanic hit an iceberg and immediately dropped to the ocean’s floor, or that Rome was built in a day.
Both my daughters have been leaving the nest, in small and large ways, for years. The process isn’t like an earthquake or meteor strike happening in an instant. It is more like packing up a house, filling many boxes and suitcases in deliberate preparation for a move. I have gone from their infant and toddler days — when it took momentous coordination to spend a weekend without them, alone with my wife, usually requiring a deposit at the grandparents before managing to have 24 hours without the little darlings — to the present when it’s been half a decade since I last called a babysitter, and spending time with my children requires negotiation and planning, sometimes bribes, often weeks in advance.
Of course there were parenting moments that felt huge, scrapbook worthy, red-letter days that seemed particularly significant to my children’s development into full-fledged human beings. Their first day of preschool (in fact the first day of school each year), putting them on the bus to sleep-away camp, the first time they stayed home alone, took the subway alone, drove a car, voted.
My daughters’ lives are filled with milestones of their growth and development, each one a marker of their increasing separation from me. Some brought cheers to my mouth, some tears to my eyes, but I knew that each new accomplishment was only leading to the next.
Just as my kids’ childhoods have been a slow and steady movement away from me, towards their own independence, guess what? I’ve been packing my own suitcases, getting ready to head out on my own, too. From being with them 24-7, to working, to rediscovering a social life that doesn’t include my girls, even travelling without them, the nest has been emptying, little by little, every year.
There are many milestones in my life as a parent, from changing that first diaper to driving my girls around on school visits — and dropping my youngest off at college will certainly get added to the list.
Returning home after depositing her and her things in a dorm room, after helping her make her bed and hang her clothes, may feel particularly poignant, though I don’t know yet whether I will be sad or ready to throw a party.
Either way, the nest won’t truly be empty because I will continue to be a parent of two wonderful, nearly adult daughters, and I’m rebelling against the idea that this transition is elementally different than all the other transformations that have come along.
I may have a reshaped roost or perhaps an adjusted aerie, but life will go on in its continually changing way.