They move away. That’s what adult children do. They move to college. To jobs. To adventures. For love. I understand that. Really, really, I do.
I just spent a week of precious vacation time helping one of my sons move to Atlanta. He’d already been away from home six years, first in college and then a year’s rotation in New York after his master’s degree. This move, however, was different — and not because he had acquired more stuff, either.
The Big Apple was temporary, a way station much like Gainesville. Those two towns were tidily wrapped with entry and exit points, an expectation of completion. Hotlanta feels … well, more permanent.
He’s the farthest away of my five kids. Three older children live nearby, and though I don’t see them as often as I’d like — they’re probably quite pleased with that arrangement — I’m available at a moment’s notice just the same. Only one other satellite remains in orbit and upon graduation my youngest son plans to return to his hometown. When this happens, I’ll be like an old, smug hen fluffing out her fading feathers.
Turns out that, for all my efforts to nudge them out of the nest, I want them close. Preferably (and selfishly) in the same ZIP code. Proximity provides a swab of comfort, more for me than, I think, for them.
Child #4 has been different. He’s taken me at my word. And my word has encouraged exploration: Spread your wings. Fly high. Seek new destinations.
How could he be so literal!
Many of my friends have adult children who live hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away. I often hear them lament this separation, a separation that has been shortened by the miracle of technology. A generation ago they would’ve spent a small fortune on long distance calls. But these days my friends FaceTime. They Skype, they Tango, they Google Hangout. Some do this daily, certainly more often than I speak or see my own children who live mere blocks away.
Yet these women accuse me of being lucky. I suppose I am — but I could be luckier.
One friend suggested I change the way I think about the 683 miles that separate us. He hasn’t moved away from you, she said. He simply has moved toward his own life. True. I’m proud of him, of his accomplishments. But I’m also careful about how I express these feelings of … of what? Loss? Nostalgia?
My own parents enforced many limitations. Their distrust of a new and strange culture slammed more than one door for me and I vowed not to repeat such behavior. Yet, in keeping that promise my heart is like a wool sweater in a hot dryer: battered and shrunken, waiting to be refitted.
Empty nest syndrome, you say. I don’t think so. As my kids scooted off to college, I gleefully filled my hours with what I wanted to do: writing, reading, gardening, girlfriending. I do not want them back home, nor do I pine for the relentless exhaustion of child-rearing. But I want my children near. Biking distance is the yardstick.
Embarrassing to admit this, no?
The evolution from mother of young children to mother of adults is an uneven passage, rutted with mistakes, pitted by misunderstandings. This phase, I suppose, is yet one more channel to navigate, one more gale to weather. A never-ending voyage, to be sure, but I’ll manage somehow.
I think I’ll get to work on a care package of his favorite things.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.