The new school year always means transition and sentimentality for parents. Our children are passing a milestone, growing up. We’re simultaneously proud of them and sad for the childhood that is passing by too quickly. I’ve always tried hard to put my focus ahead, being excited for them for their new adventures, the new things they’ll learn, the friends they’ll make, the realizations they’ll have. It’s exciting to watch your child’s life emerging before you. But what if that life will be emerging out of a parent’s view?
In a week, my oldest child, my first born, my daughter is moving to another state, in the south. She’s going to grad school. She left before, for her first two years of college, but she was still in state, within reach (via a four-hour drive). Then, because of my father’s cancer diagnosis, she moved back home to be closer to him. Now, she’s moving out of state, across the country, for a five year program. I don’t know if she’ll move back here when she has her degree. This could be it. The first kid truly flying the nest.
My mother, her grandmother, is devastated by this, even though she, herself, left her family and moved across the country when she was around the same age as my daughter. The more upset my mother gets, the more hardened I have to become to my daughter’s move because, like watching a Hallmark commercial, I can’t see other people cry without crying myself. It’s a messy time.
But this is what people do. They bring children into the world, raise them to be good, functioning, happy people and then send them off. Almost everyone I know left their parents’ homes to move elsewhere (ironically, except for Thomas and me but it wasn’t for lack of wanting to). “It’s just what happens, it’s the natural progression of things,” I tell my mother, and myself. “It’s the way it’s supposed to happen.” And if Thomas and I have done a good enough job as parents, and if Ann has done a good enough job becoming the person she has become, she will make good, wise, safe choices out there on her own. And she will flourish and build a life for herself, carving out the kind of existence she wants for herself. What more could a parent want for their child after all the years of raising them?
So back-to-school time for us means sending her not down the sidewalk to the school’s front door, but across the country to many unknowns. I try not to focus on the childhood that has passed or the fact that our family of six is starting to disperse. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself as she drives away this week. And for many days after.
Reading Courtney’s words leaves me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Everything she writes, I also feel. This letting go part of parenthood hurts. A lot. A father’s pride fills my heart, as do a father’s concerns. I have every confidence she’ll do well, and can only hope she’ll be safe. I’ve counseled her to prepare for hurricanes, buy renter’s insurance and get used to lots of bugs. I’ve encouraged her to embrace her new life in a region of the country unknown to us. “Don’t pine away about home. There’s no point in that! Throw yourself into making the most of your time there. You’ll be back at holiday time and we’ll look forward to visiting you. It’ll be great!” I’m still trying to convince myself of that last part.
Ann’s sister and brothers are feeling pain, too. They mostly hold their emotions close and joke away our attempts to talk about her departure. But Courtney and I know better. We catch glimpses of watery eyes and sadness in their faces as her departure draws closer. Grace, particularly will miss her big sis and the closeness of “coming into womanhood” guidance she has given. Ann has been such a dominant force in the household, indeed at times an unpredictable force of nature! When she leaves, the sibling dynamics will shift, and no one knows for sure what the end result will be. There will be loss and they will miss her in their own way.
Unlike Courtney and Ann’s siblings, my parting is delayed a few days. I’ll be driving cross-country with her and a carload of belongings to a new apartment in a small town. We’ll fill it up with stuff and shop around for some essentials. We’ll sightsee a bit, eat with the locals and have a few laughs. Then I’ll leave. Within hours she’ll be two time zones away. Her bedroom will remain half empty, awaiting her holiday visit. Already my insides turn to jelly at the thought.