Today I sit in front of my iPad breathing a sigh of relief. The whirlwind of emotions that have tossed me around have finally settled down to where I can pause and collect my thoughts. Sansa, Koda and Summer are sprawled around me as I relax and write today in my empty nest. Every so often my cell phone hiccups with a snapchat from my son at college, letting me know the latest thing he is up to (dorm room all set up, first trip to Target, getting wings with my teammates, first day of summer classes). Each visual image he sends me is the salve to heal my pain. It is not that I am wishing he were home at his computer with Sansa on his lap; no, he is where he is supposed to be. Any mother who has dropped her son or daughter off at college knows exactly what pain I am talking about.
We returned from dropping him off at the university dorm with all the accumulated necessary things (XL Twin sheets, thick mattress pad, fan, snacks, laundry bag, etc…). The last hug in the parking lot was tough for all of us, then even harder to pull away as he stood there in his college colors. I remember thinking, “He is going to be fine. Great in fact. But now we go back home without him.” It was not until three hours later that we were in the house and I walked down the hallway past his empty bedroom. I stopped short and caught my breath. My first impulse was to neaten up the disheveled bed and clean up by baby’s barren bedroom. Even the usually cluttered bathroom was free from his teenage boy mess, leaving behind a white countertop I hadn’t seen in years.
I decided it wasn’t a good idea to wallow in tears at his absence standing in his bedroom. Instead I sought the comfort of our energetic love-hungry aussiedoodles and tabby kitten. I hugged on them extra hard that first night and realized how much their presence in my life was going to help me through this “empty nest” transition. I have stayed home from work since a few months after our first child was born. That was twenty-six years ago. Four children, multiple fur babies along the way, and I have grown into the protective, nurturing, worrying, and loving grizzlybearma. My life’s work has been to prepare these cubs for independence and survival out in the world. One at a time I have sent each child out, all of them tugging at my heart. When our first child left for college we all took it hard, noticing his empty chair at the round kitchen table. It did not get any easier to send the second or the third. But this last one has been a doozie. 99 days ago I knew it, and tried to prepare myself for it.
On Saturday night after a wonderful day of graduation and celebrations that followed, my son called out, “Alexa, how long before June 9?” She replied, “There are 36 minutes until June 9, 2019.” Everyone knew how I’d asked Alexa this question for the past six months. Hearing Luke ask with our whole family present just made it all real. It was time. Fortunately, logistics like packing up a car and handling last minute details like setting up Venmo helped distract me from the closely approaching farewell. He said goodbye to his three siblings, Koda, Summer and Sansa, and walked out the door for the last time.
Now before you correct me and tell me “it’s not the last time” I will say that I know this because one thing a mamabear does find out is that it never really ends, they do come back. It’s not the same, but they do return home. Luke’s older brothers and sister have shown this to be true which brings me comfort. So that experienced knowledge along with occasional snapchats and texts from Luke are helping me get through these first few tough days. It also helps that Koda, Summer and Sansa follow me everywhere and show me the love! Papa Bear and I will be just fine.