How’s your half-empty nest?
Oh, then he’s not far away … This is the sweetness most people offer after asking about my Seventeen. And it’s true. His first-year college dorm is just sixty-three miles from my door. It is another mother who shares my hometown and whose son is at the same school who best understands: Sure, he didn’t fly far from the nest, but he’s gone. And the nest will never be the same.
The daily reminders come thick and fast. Our dishwasher doesn’t fill up as quickly, the laundry piles are smaller, and leftovers don’t disappear from the refrigerator. By contrast, my chore list has grown: it’s once again my job to shop for groceries, carry them in and put them away; mow the yard; fill up the yard-waste bin; and clean the cat litter boxes. (I’m working on striking a deal with Fourteen for this last task, the one chore that I will pay someone else to do.) Since Seventeen’s departure was followed by the beginning of Fourteen’s high school journey, we’re in that wobbly transitional time between summer’s ebb and flow and fall’s established routine.
I walked into Seventeen’s room the other day and was startled to see that before he left he unplugged his alarm clock. It was a thoughtful thing to do and a clear example of his attention to detail. But it struck my heart as so final. He’s made this move fully, with barely a backward glance, divesting of his childhood and heading off with only what he needs for his new life. Looking at the dark face of his alarm clock, I felt especially glad for the togetherness we had in August before he moved, not only because I felt needed and included in his process, but because making lists and preparing for this enormous change grounded me.
Change gets a bad rap. I’ve been one of those people who say I’m not good at change. But I’m amending that. I’m really good at change. External change requires action. When it’s upcoming, there are lists to be made, errands to run, letters to write. When it’s sudden, be it plot twist or emergency, I’m your go-to gal. A change in circumstances requires calculated response. I can do that.
Emotional transition, before, during and after the change has happened, is another story. I can pre-process, yes. I can muscle through the actual change (I didn’t cry once during the drop-off overnight) reasonably well. But the aftermath? I’m wandering around my big, empty-feeling house this week, and I’m struck by this. Things are so different and yet they’re not. I look for the constants. What I find is that I’m the same person even though my to-do list, our grocery needs, and my parenting time all look different. And so, I’m beginning to understand that successfully navigating change requires staying open and curious in order to adjust to both anticipated and unintentional consequences.
The best changes, both big and little, are the ones we choose with joy, anticipate with excitement, and delight in the results. Fourteen made just such a change this weekend, hennaing her blonde-brown hair to a spectacular red. Neither of us was quite prepared for the effort it would take, but it was a lively joint project for a Saturday night and she is thrilled with the stunning results.
In the grand scheme of things, changing one’s hair color isn’t generally fraught with problems or rife with unexpected ramifications. But the discrete nature of the shift lets me review what I’m learning about change. Whether elective or not, change is logically the one, true constant. I’m good at creating an action plan around change and that process keeps me grounded. I’m less adept at knowing how I’ll respond emotionally to any change until the action swirls away and I begin to consider the new normal. Recognizing that I don’t know what I don’t know and being open and curious until I do know—this strikes me as the solution to navigating the emotional piece. These are not such simple notations to add to the to-do list—stay grounded, open, and curious—but I’m beginning to think they should have a permanent place in indelible ink, right at the top.
It’s a few days after the new month launched under a new moon. Perhaps instead of a new normal, every shift brings a new beginning. Wishing you the best possible even-if-it-is-all-new fall—with love, as ever, Rxo