The summer is almost over, but it has been a glorious adventure for my wife and me. We had a preview of the future as we practiced being empty-nesters. We took off on day trips without worrying about any child’s schedule. Meal times were no longer written in stone and we ate according to our clocks of the day. We breathed in deeply the silence and the solitude.
We were not alone all summer. Our son Taylor, age 16, was off working in New Hampshire for the entire summer, but our daughter, Meghan, age 20, was home for most of it, working and attending school. She left for New Hampshire for the last three weeks of the summer, and then we were alone.
I was excited when it came time for them to return on Labor Day. Sure, the silence, freedom and flexibility were wonderful, but something was missing from our home. I missed the loving presence of our children. They fill up our house to overflowing, with sounds, voices and emotions pouring out over the eaves. But they are our sounds, our voices and our emotions.
And now I am feeling a loss. This weekend my daughter will be moving into her first apartment in preparation for the new school year. It was bad enough when we sent her off to begin college, but college dorms were always a temporary, nine month arrangement. She would always have to come home at the end. But the apartment is a twelve month lease which will be followed by other leases and then some day mortgage payments. My daughter is leaving home for good.
The truth is that she left home three years ago when she went to work in New Hampshire for the summer after her senior year in high school. She has not lived here regularly ever since. But those events did not grab me. I did not want to believe that she was gone. To me she was always visiting some place else. Her home was always with us.
Now she will have her own home. Of course, this is exactly what she is supposed to be doing. Her future is not under my roof, nor should it be. But I feel the loss. This child who was laid in my arms twenty years ago in a hospital corridor now will walk proudly on her own.
I grab her arm and tell her only half-jokingly not to leave. She says she will be back but what she refers to as “back” and what I mean as “back” are not the same thing. She will not be one of those “boomerang kids” who leave but always move back home. She will be back to visit. She likes to visit her old parents and she always brings joy into the house with her. But visiting here and living here are not the same thing.
Change is upon us. Change is good, or so I have read. I am learning a new way of loving a child while saying hello and good-bye. They did not tell us about good-byes at childbirth classes. But I have learned that good-byes are just preparations for hellos. I will practice. I will learn. And I will love.