Celebrating Motherhood

My increasingly empty nest

My oldest child, Anne, left for San Francisco yesterday, leaving a not-yet-empty nest. But it feels emptier than before.

When I say “child,” I don’t really mean “child.” Anne is a mature 21-year-old, so she’s no longer a child, but she’ll always be my child, if you see what I mean. All week I was busy helping her get ready: doing laundry, helping her decide what to take, and so on.

This is not, however, the first time she’s left home. A real “third culture kid,” Anne has always been comfortable with travel and adaptable to new situations.

She spent a year when she was a teenager in the US, staying with my sister and her family in Connecticut in order to experience a typical American high school. For her Bachelor’s degree, she chose to study in the UK, so she spent three years there, only coming home to Holland during her breaks and over the summers. And she’s travelled a lot, both with us and with friends.

Now she’s enrolled at the Academy of Art University to do a Master’s in graphic design. It’s a three-year program, and, since it’s much further away, she’s unlikely to be able to come home until next summer.

Anne was born in San Francisco, so I’ve been looking at this move as a sort of a return home for her. We lived in San Francisco until she was four years old, then moved here to the Netherlands. San Francisco is open and inclusive and friendly in a way I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

Anne, however, doesn’t remember San Francisco, and as leaving day approached, she became increasingly apprehensive about the whole thing.

Over the last few weeks, my husband and I have been enthusiastically telling her our impressions of San Francisco. She’s reserving judgment till she sees it herself, but this week I’ve realized a few things:

1. I’ve been telling myself that this is no different than the last three years when she was in the UK. I was wrong: going to San Francisco is different. We can skype with her in both places, but San Francisco is simply further away. It feels further away. And she can’t come home so easily. So I’m going to miss her more than I did before. 
2. I’m not, however, worried about her. She’s competent and smart and sensible and can take care of herself, or get help if she needs it. I’m proud of her, and I’m also proud of myself and my husband, because we raised her to become this wonderful, independent person.
3. I’m jealous of her. She’s setting out on this great adventure: a new city, new friends, new learning. I’d like that too, especially because her great adventure will be in such a great city.

I understand my mother’s extreme distress seeing me off to the Peace Corps in Malawi in the 1980s: no skype, no e-mail, not even a phone. I don’t think I could stand not having at least thepossibility of immediate contact. I wish I could apologize to my mom for putting her through that.

I drove Anne to Schiphol airport yesterday to see her off. And, yes, there were tears on both sides. I watched her clear security, gave one last wave and left, feeling a bit sorry for myself.

For the next year, our nest will be a bit emptier than it was. She’s been away for most of the last three years, but somehow this is more so. Our 16-year-old son, who is still at home, feels that gap too. Fortunately for us, he has turned out to be much less of a traveler, so we may get to keep him close.

As I was walking back to the parking lot to drive home, I passed the room that has been set aside as a place of remembrance of the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. It’s piled with handwritten notes, stuffed animals, flowers and so on, left by mourners passing through

It puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? My tears may be tears of missing my daughter, but they’re tears of happiness too, that she’s ready for whatever life throws at her in San Francisco. And as I’ve been telling her for weeks, it’ll be fine.

This is a guest post by Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations. She adds: I wrote this article back in July, 2014. My daughter, now 26, has graduated with an MFA in graphic design and works at an agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. As for our son, he’s 21 now and my prediction that he’d stay nearby was incorrect: he just finished his second year studying biology in Aberdeen. At least we get to see him more often!

Featured images are from Pexels.

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