“Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” ~ Novelist Barbara Kingsolver
We’re in the month between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and smack dab in the middle of graduation season, even though there are no graduations in our immediate family this year. It seems timely, however, that I’m realizing that this summer, I’ll be living through a short preview of the next phase of my life: The mostly empty nest.
My son is heading to Tokyo at the end of this week for a four-week program studying Japanese at Chuo University. He’ll be living with a Japanese family and getting an immersive experience in the culture he’s been studying at Cal State Monterey Bay.
My daughter, who is finishing her junior year at Live Oak High School this week, will depart shortly thereafter for Costa Rica with her Girl Scout troop for a long-planned, much-anticipated nine-day tour.
So, for a week and a half in late June, I’ll have a preview of what life will be like when she goes off to college in 14 months.
I have a full-time job and a full slate of volunteer activities, so I don’t expect to bereft and bored when both of my kids are mostly out of the house as college students living in dorms. But I will have an adjustment as they leave the country this summer: The extensive time demands of getting them prepped for their foreign travels will stop when they board their flights.
Andrew’s study program requires payment in cash in yen on his first day: Obtaining yen is not the simplest process in the world. The program also requires proof of insurance coverage for repatriation — sending your body back to your home in the event that you die — and evacuation — sending your live self back to your home in the event of a crisis, for example, an illness. These are not possibilities that any mother wants to think about. After spending some time researching purchasing this coverage, I discovered that I have the coverage through my employer’s life insurance plan. I also discovered that getting proof of that coverage took a surprising number of telephone calls and email messages.
The program has specific requirements for arrival and departure times that complicated the process of finding flights, forms to sign and return, and lots of details to finalize. For example, we spent a good part of this past weekend finding appropriate gifts for his host family.
Katie’s tour required lots of fundraising planning and events, mandatory meetings for parents and participants, and packing lists specific to the needs of traveling in a jungle climate.
When they’re both finally out of the country, my to-do list will suddenly shrink. I must admit that I’m kind of looking forward to that.
But I’m also wistful. While I’m thrilled that my children are maturing into young people who are responsible enough to handle these challenges, and I’m thankful that they have the opportunity and means to experience these perspective-expanding adventures, I’m also aware that I’m getting ever closer to my goal of raising children who won’t need me.
The empty nest shouldn’t be a shock: Children prepare us and rehearse for their departures over and over again. They learn to crawl, then walk, then run. They ride bikes, then learn to take the bus, then learn to drive.
In light of the loss of two young Morgan Hill teens in recent months, both of whom who were violently denied the opportunity to experience the levels of independence that my kids will enjoy this summer, I feel especially obligated to look on the bright side of my soon-to-be-mostly empty nest.
But I can’t completely eliminate the bitter from the sweet as I watch my children grow. My pride and gratitude are mixed with wistful nostalgia brought about by the knowledge that an important chapter in our family’s history will soon be coming to a close.
“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.” ~ Psychologist Erich Fromm