Empty Nest, Eternal Mom

E&N Bite of Seattle 2010

I wonder if they’d have let me leave the hospital with my daughter almost thirty years ago, if I’d flat out said what I was thinking; that my primary job that first year was to keep her alive and keep my individuality and dreams from floating out with the tide of new responsibilities.

As a free-spirited young mother, who mysteriously had not read a single parenting book or ever babysat, I operated mostly on animal instinct, common sense and my own quirky ideas about what seemed right in the moment. Motherhood began as an innocent exploration to see who she was and what we could be together.

Because I didn’t say it out loud, no one knew to warn me that I’d lose my fight for Selfdom more than I won. That my life would essentially revolve around her needs, wants, and wellbeing for a long, long time. That when I caught a break from the 24/7 grind of parenting, my bones would still be so full of her that I’d kind of lose momentum for attacking my bucket-list and just sleep. That all of it would be okay.

It may be awful to say, but I don’t think I ever expected to love her so much. With most relationships, I am half in, half swirling around an orbit of my own design.  Growing someone from an itty bitty thing to an adult shifts perspectives and priorities; something you only see clearly in the field.

Too, in the final lap, I crashed into the thin veil between the kind of exuberant freedom that said it’s my turn now and the initial sense of loss and disorientation that rode atop it. Although grounded in pursuit of goals in the shadow of mothering, when she left home after college, more than anything else, I felt untethered, unsteady.  Like what does Mama Bird really do without Baby Bird? The answer, clearly, was not to have more baby birds or get a cat. Instead, I rearranged the nest and my habits. Shuffled furniture, painted walls, jumped into the nightlife, ate cereal for dinner, did whatever I wanted. Still, her phantom presence, love and our memories—great and not—lingered in the walls until I moved out too.

That rattled her. Maybe moms are supposed to stay put. “I don’t know where you are anymore,” she, twenty-five, said one morning, in a five-year-old voice, after we’d played phone tag for two days. I thought the same when she moved to San Francisco.

A few beats have passed since our disassembly and rearrangement, including several positive moves for both of us, and we’ve established a hopeful new rhythm—with her there, me here—of silly and random, epic and reflective phone chats, texts and emails, back-and-forth visits and vacation meet-ups.  It is better to move through time with her than cling to a past that we are unmistakably rooted in. To wonder anew, at each leg, what we can be together.

There is a void without her, and yet she continues to occupy more of my mindscape than anyone. Without meaning to, I spontaneously float to points on our shared time-line to something she did, something she said, something she was. Or sometimes, a niggling feeling sends my Mom-antenna up, tentacles out. I check my phone, check my email, check it all, and if there’s nothing from her, and something in me still says find my girl I deliberately hunt her down with startling speed and precision, anxiety yielding when I hear her “Hey Ma, I was just thinking about you.”

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