by Rose Cafasso
A week from now, I will be an empty nester. Or should I say my husband and I will be empty nesting, for it’s a process, not an identity. It’s another phase of the journey we started when our children were little—slowly but surely letting them go.
Though I hadn’t a clue at the time, I started this process on the first day of kindergarten for my older daughter. Apparently, I couldn’t believe my little curly-haired girl could function independently. So I actually got on the school bus with her. I had no idea that parents simply didn’t do that. The bus driver looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m sure some of the bus stop moms snickered. I slowly backed down the two bus steps and watched her find her way to a seat, giant backpack obscuring half of her tiny body as she made her own way.
Now I am sending her and her younger sister off to college. Last night, the three of us stood in our basement among bags and boxes of stuff—towels, toiletries, mini ironing boards, shower caddies, under-bed storage containers, desk lamps, comforters, and snacks. I offered my best ideas on packing, but they actually wanted to do it themselves. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? They’re now taking the lead; I’m suggesting tips from the sidelines.
But it took me a while to get there.
When my second daughter went to kindergarten, I was a little stronger than when my first one went, so I didn’t try to ride the bus. What I recall is standing with her at the bus stop when she tugged on my arm and said firmly and clearly, “I am NOT going to school.’’ I faltered. Maybe I could drive her? But then I knelt down, looked her in the eye and said firmly, “Yes, you are.” It was the eye contact that did her in, and her quiet acceptance almost killed me.
Then there was the year my older daughter started middle school. She was worried about having to use a locker and in particular, remembering the locker combination. So, we bought her a lock and helped her practice over and over, until she probably could have done it underwater and blindfolded. Still, I worried so much that first day and felt no relief until she returned home to report that the locker experience was a breeze. She had moved on, but I felt 10 years older.
And then high school. I drove my younger daughter her first morning, feeling overwhelmed by this change. But she was in good spirits for she had connected with friends on Facebook to make a plan for sitting together at lunch. As I pulled away from the drop-off line, I felt buoyed by her mood, until I saw a young man—with a full beard, no less—get out of a car and head into the school. I could not believe that someone who could drive and grow facial hair could be a classmate of my daughter. Somehow, I found a way to keep driving instead of running into the school to warn her about male upperclassmen.
Before I knew it, the girls were both finishing up high school. They had their licenses and were driving to school each day. They would whirl around me in the mornings, sometimes asking for an egg sandwich for breakfast, sometimes ignoring me while they argued with each other about who would drive.
In a few days, we will pack the car (to the brim). My younger daughter goes first to start her freshman year. Then, two days later, we will again stuff the car and take our older girl, who begins her sophomore year. I will do my best not to overstep, to let them take the lead.
And start my own process of empty nesting, the next step in letting them go.
Rose Cafasso is the social media manager for School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives with her family in the greater Boston area.