Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Empty Nest Bar and Grill


You guys. I don't know how to put this. But Birdy? That tiny little baby girl? SHE WENT TO COLLEGE. I mean. What? I realize I've been a little, er, quiet here. All I've got is links to old stuff about my kids leaving. This, for example. And this

And this piece, which I wrote for Family Circle when Ben left. Cutting and pasting since I can't find it online. Come find me on Instagram, though, please. I know lots of you are in the same boat, not coincidentally. I am sending so much love. So much.

The Stuff of Motherhood

Before he was born, I counted eensy pairs of socks. “Do we have enough socks?” I asked the baby’s father. “Do babies even wear socks? Suddenly I can’t picture a baby with socks on.” His father shook his head, baffled by the accumulation of miniature clothing for a hypothetical person who was only, at that point, a stubborn guest overstaying his welcome in my body’s cramped guest quarters. 

We lived in a sunny room in a friend’s California arts-and-crafts bungalow, and I sorted our accumulated hand-me-downs obsessively: the jog stroller, the duck-printed nighties with their oddly elasticized bottoms, the Scandinavian mobile with its black and white faces, the sweaters and jeans and Air Jordans, sized 0-3 months. (A 0-month old! We would have that.) I counted diapers and washcloths, hooded towels and snap-crotch onesies and crib sheets. I inspected the breast pump, which appeared to have been designed by a sadist who gave up sadism for engineering but then still turned out to be secretly a sadist. 

In the absence of the actual baby, there were the baby’s things. Only, then the baby came, and the stuff was like the punchline of a joke. Who even cared about any of it? He wouldn’t go in the jog stroller! He never slept in the crib! He did smile at his Scandinavian friends, but mostly he lived in our arms and wore whatever, and we passed him around like a bong, like we were high and getting higher, drunk on the baby’s scalp smell and smile. 

And it’s happening again now, in reverse. This glorious grown person, this golden ball who has rolled glowingly through our lives for 18 years, is getting ready to go—and all I can think about is stuff. In the absence of the actual absence, there are the leaving person’s things: the shampoo and toothpaste, the pens and notebooks and wheeled plastic under-bed storage bins. And the bedding. The bedding! I am obsessed with the bedding. “Is twin xl just the size of the fitted sheet? Or do you need an xl top sheet too?” The baby’s father shakes his head, shrugs. He loves the boy, but doesn’t know or, especially, care about college dorm bedding specifications. 

I go to Marshall’s and study the bedding like it’s material I’ll be tested on in a class about the anatomy of loss. Does a mattress cover go over or under a foam topper—or is the foam topper instead of it? Google these questions and find yourself in a forest full of lost mothers, calling out to each other in their grief and fear, except the only language available to them is percale.

On drop-off day, I make his bed while his roommate’s mother makes her son’s bed, and we laugh at ourselves. I understand the expression “lump in your throat” with sudden urgency. There is a rock in my throat, an anvil. There is the piano in my throat that I watched him play last night, his sister on guitar beside him, perfection threaded through with dread, weighted down with this lump in my throat. The many things unpacked and put away, the toiletries stashed, the giant socks piled in a drawer, the sheets pulled tight. He came into our lives two weeks late, but now he’s leaving right on time, and we’re supposed to graciously show him the door. We’ve been running alongside his bike for 18 years and we’re supposed to wave cheerfully as he turns into a pedaling speck in the distance. He is our nurtured sparrow, and we are flinging our arms open to return him to the wild, where he belongs.

And all I can do is text him later. “Is your bed comfortable?” I write, and he writes back immediately, “So comfortable! Thank you.”

17 comments:

  1. Love, empathy, fist bumps, glass raised, all of it.

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  2. I have 2 children, twin boys, several months younger than Birdy. I found your blog, in fact, the month I became pregnant with them and it cheered me on in ways you can't imagine. I've always told them "travel is the best education," and last week, one of my boys had the audacity to show he had actually listened and moved 2 states away to a wonderful college in an amazing area. I am bereft and proud and devastated and jealous. Thank you, Catherine, for allowing me to walk this mama journey with you.

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  3. Just experienced this a gut-wrenching two weeks ago. Hardest day ever and tears come quickly at the very thought of it. Can’t bear to imagine how much harder it will be when our second flies the best. Solidarity, mama.

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  4. oh man. mine started middle school and high school last week, and though what you're writing about is foreign to me, it's becoming more and more imaginable. big breaths -- and i wish you the strength and patience to be able to embrace whatever comes next.

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  5. I have been reading you since way back when- your Birdy is the same age as my Sam- and wow I am feeling this real hard. Sam leaves Saturday and I almost can’t wait to be on the other side of this because this waiting thing is NOT FUN. Sending love and all the things to you. Thanks for always putting my thoughts into words and making me laugh and cry

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  6. Oh, Catherine! I've been reading your blog since Ben was tiny and Birdy wasn't even born yet. I remember you telling of having to go get your ultrasound for Birdy in the wee hours, something about wearing a puffy coat. My boy is right in between your two. Ours is still at home, but I know our days are numbered. You've engendered such a deep love and family into your children, they'll be back to visit often (I hope).

    Lots of love,
    Jaxmom ❤️

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  7. I dropped my baby off at college today - admittedly quite close to home, but still! This really made me feel the weight of it. Thank you and also thanks for making me laugh out loud with “designed by a sadist who gave up sadism for engineering but then still turned out to be secretly a sadist.”

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  8. Once in awhile, my mean old spousaldude insists on saying to me, "You know he's only home with us for two more years, right?" And it's always a shock to me, no matter how often he's said it before. It's a shock to him, too, even as it's coming out of his mouth. (Honestly, I think he's not trying to make it bearable, just *fathomable.*) Oh, we're going to be a pretty mess when the kid actually leaves, all right.

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  9. Crying and sending love your way. My 18 year old son is going into his senior year of high school and I'll be in these shoes next year.

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  11. Oh Catherine!! So wonderful to see a post! My own boys (14 and 24) aren’t going anywhere… physically… yet I feel the distancing. As someone once said: from the beginning we are teaching them to live without us.
    Thank you for the lovely post. As soon as my 14YO gets home I’m sniffin’ his head.

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  12. Oh please write more about transitioning to the empty nest. I am having a hard time with it. Have followed you for many years and have loved your writing on all the stages of mothering. Would love to hear more of your experience of the empty nest

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  13. I want to say thanks once again to this great man called Dr Zuma and his spiritual way of helping people i lives in USA with my husband we love each other and also he care about me always look forward to make things easy for both of us 9 years after our wedding, we both work harder to make a family greatest surprise, we have a kid after some times again, we have another one so with this, we live in peace and he was so honest to me shortly, he started misbehaving that i don’t know what is going on then i asked him. Darling what is going on? you are so strange to me this few days hope i have not offended you? he said no. Not knowing he have an affair with one lady out side who promised him a car and apartment in one estate were i cannot see him also when he cannot see me i manage to stay with him pleading him he should forgive me if i have wrong him he started complaining he has no money that he has lost all his money in his business that he needs some money then i asked him how much is this money you are looking for? he did not know i can afford it. Then, he said $14,000USD i promised him i we give it to him just for him to care about his family. My greatest surprise, the next day, i went to work and our two kids were in school not knowing his going to leave the house before i come’s back i met some of his things outside i was waiting for him to come back he never come back i cried i miss him so much and he have taking all my money away i was only left with $800USD. One day, as i was ready a blog i saw a testifier made by someone in Australia called Jessica telling people about how this man call Dr Zuma helped her and the man’s contact email was there and his mobile number then i contacted him for a help and really, he brought back my husband now am so happy my brothers and sister if you are in such relationship problem kindly via Email spiritualherbalisthealing@gmail.com or Whatsapp +15068001647 Blog: https://spiritualherbal.blogspot.com he will help you solve all your problems.

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  14. Anonymous10:30 PM

    I just sent mine off, and he didn't want my help with bedding. I missed you, Catherine, and your words of my heart. Thanks for this. I can't figure out how to publish other than anonymously. ~Kathy A.

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  15. Good gravy, I am weeping....

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  16. Oh I am late to this, but I just have to say my heart is with you. My own little, who didn't exist when I first started reading your work way back in the beginning on BabyCenter, is now starting middle school and as I contemplated how close 18 suddenly feels, I thought of you and realized with a frisson of -- shock? compassion? wonder? -- that Birdy must be out of the nest by now. So grateful for all of your writing through this journeying, for who you are in the world and what you bring into and put out into it.

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