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Family

When we have children, we begin the only relationship in our lives built on the absolute understanding and expectation that they will grow beyond us and leave. And yet somehow when it happens, it can come as a shock. (Tobyotter/flickr)

This empty nest thing? Feh. For the birds.

Yes, that would be me — whining about the very achievement that every parent should be so lucky to experience.

Just another of my many charms.

Let’s face it. Raising children means hoping from day one — and doing everything possible to make sure — that they will thrive and find their own way.

So when the kids reach a huge milestone towards that goal, you might think all parents would high five, swig some Gatorade, and do a little jig. You might, in fact, think it’s downright perverse for parents like me to carry on with the moping, the weeping, the rending of garments.

Simultaneously, I cherish memories of the pipsqueaks they once were, feel great hope for the future, and cry over the realization that I no longer need to buy milk.

But the situation isn’t quite so simple. Much as some people would argue that it is. Perhaps you’ve met those people? The ones who insist that after the kids are on their own, you need to, as it were, man up. The ones who say if any melancholy lingers in your soul once the offspring are tossing Frisbees on sun-dappled quads, then you have Issues. The ones who maintain that when you’re sad, you can’t also be happy for your children, and who imply that this might make you selfish, weak, histrionic, or over-invested in your role as center-of-universe-for-the-spawn. The ones who roll their eyes and declare, “What a tragedy — you’re sending your child to college!” And then resort to air quotes while stage-whispering “Hashtag: First World Problems.”

Hey, it takes all kinds, including the kinds who enjoy finding excuses to say “hashtag.” To each his own.

And I suppose it’s always easier to see the world in black and white.

But in the gray, where I live, one of the marvels of being human involves being able to hold more than one feeling in our hearts at a time.

I lament what is lost even while celebrating what is gained. Simultaneously, I cherish memories of the pipsqueaks they once were, feel great hope for the future, and cry over the realization that I no longer need to buy milk.

I’m thankful that my sons are getting a great education and that — knock wood — they’re healthy and — knock wood — they’re happy.

But like so many other parents I know, my emotions are a potent mix. We’ve devoted a couple of decades to these squirts. No matter how proud we are of what they are becoming away from us, it can still come as a shock that they are indeed away from us. How can they be living hundreds of miles from home and wearing size 13 shoes and studying formulas and theories that we cannot begin to grasp, when surely we could still reach out and take their tiny grimy hands in ours to cross the street?

I think about my sons and grin, thrilled to ponder all their new adventures and opportunities. But sometimes I still find myself yearning for how it used to be.

That would be me, again, wallowing in a puddle of wistful.

I miss them.

I miss being around my sons as they are now, and I miss their little-boy selves.

I miss their physical presence and I miss the era that I treasured and now is over.

Over the long days and the short years, a rhythm built that was uniquely ours; every family has one. I miss the one we had.

But here we are, halfway through the school year. The new normal has staked its claim. The college boys are settled on campus again after winter break. I’m accustomed now to the untouched beds and clean desks and empty laundry baskets that just a few months ago could stop me in my tracks. And yet… sometimes I still find myself yearning for how it used to be. It’s as if I’m caught in the old movie image of calendar pages flipping over and over, too fast, too fast, too fast.

What strikes me though is this: when we have children, we begin the only relationship in our lives built on the absolute understanding and expectation that they will grow beyond us and leave.

So we know it from the start, we plan for it, we dream of this very path. And still somehow when it happens, it can come as a shock. A lot of us aren’t quite ready, not yet, not now.

We humans, feh. We aren’t always so bright.

However, what we lack in anticipatory skills, we make up for in the complexity of love.

My guys have left for college and soon for the world beyond.

I am delighted, and I am blue, and I am everything in between. Air quote: Hashtag Mama.

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