It’s official. In exactly one month from today we drop my middle off at college. He leaves home, launches into adulthood and spread his wings. Time to fly, Baby.
While I sit and ponder, or if I’m being honest wallow, this change I have dreaded for 18 years, I am overwhelmed with the empty space he will leave. He has filled our house with laughter, quick witted humor, and so much love. He is balanced, even tempered and levelheaded. He is fair and non-judgmental and would make a great judge. He has mad skills when it comes to mediating which I guess happens when you are the middle child. He has an incredible gift of knowing when to speak up and when to go stealth. He is the peacekeeper in our house, the steady-eddy and the equalizer. And now he is leaving us.
Because he is only moving an hour away, people remind me all the time that “It’s so close you won’t even notice he’s gone” (who are they kidding) or “You’re so lucky, you can visit all the time” (like what he really wants is a mom who just shows up all the time) or “You already had one move out” (thanks for the compassion). This void, vacuum, and hole he leaves feels monstrous. Let’s be honest, things will never be the same.
Right now, my home is the only home he has ever known. His room is the only room he has ever had. Our family is the only people he has called his roommates. Our couch is his sanctuary. He has the same seat at our dining room table. He loves his bed so much that he hates sleeping at other people’s houses. That’s all about to change.
It’s easy to see the magnitude of my loss. It’s easy to see the pain in my momma’s heart having another birdie fly the nest. It’s easy to see my dread driving away when we drop him off. But what I’m starting to see is that my daughter’s pain is worse.
She was born into a lively crazy family. Our house is always filled with people. She rarely knows a quiet house. Growing up, our front door is open to friends and family and our kitchen table always has extra people around it for dinner. That’s her norm. With two older brothers and a dad who is a coach, she’s used to boys at our house, all the time. With teenage boys come smelly sneakers by the door, chip bags all over the place, sports always on the TV and people taking great amounts of space on our couch. She’s down to fight for another slice of pizza, a comfortable spot to sit or control of the remote. She is used to family dinners that talk about scouting reports, injury updates and team schedules. She learned to lay claim on food, like a boss.
For the past seven years she has spent every Friday night during fall cheering for her brothers on the football field. Before that, she grew up on playgrounds while her brothers played baseball and sitting on gym floors while her brothers played basketball. She rarely knew a free weekend that didn’t somehow surround something for her brothers or her dad.
When her oldest brother left for college, she hurt. Even after he has been gone for three years, she facetimes him all the time. When something good happens, he is the first person she texts. If I don’t know where she is, I can text him and somehow, he always knows. She loves it when he is home and she loves it when his friends are over. What can I say, she likes a house that is hopping. She’ s close to Brother #1 and they are good buddies. She used to always tell him he was her favorite.
Something changed this year: she became super close to Brother #2. The fighting slowed down (not stopped, but a mom can always dream) and the arguing turned into laughter. They carpool to school every morning and have a routine together. He makes her a smoothie for breakfast, and she helped him fill his hydroflask when he was recovering from surgery. Some mornings, I listen from my room to them chatting after school about how their day was. She thinks he is one cool cat even after he told a boy at school not to talk to his little sister (can I get an AMEN!). They go to the store together and he takes her and her friends to Dutch Bros all the time. It’s like they realized their time together was coming to an end and they got on board with loving each other. My favorite moment of the day comes at night when she goes to bed and yells “Love you” to him, simply because she means it.
Our pain is different. My melancholy is more about life marching on and my role as mom changing. My grief is about how much I have loved being their mom and how I will miss being a part of their daily life. Our laundry is going to be a piece of cake and our cupboards are going to stay full. My trips to the grocery store are going to change drastically with only three of us in the house, one who eats like a bird. My feelings are about an ending, a shift and a chapter closed.
Her angst is deeper. Her sadness is about losing her partner in crime, her safety net, her buddy, her tour guide to help navigate through high school, her teaser, her protector and her built-in playmate. Her sadness is about a quiet house, another room empty and another extra bed. Her sadness is about losing a midnight companion, someone to share the same music in the car and her go-to when she’s lonely. Her sadness is about another empty chair at the table. Her sadness is about losing someone who knows her, accepts her (and her flaws) and embraces her. Her sadness is about saying good-bye to her friend. As her brother takes a step into his new life, she will take a step into hers and it will be lonely. My loss feels big but in my heart, I know, her loss is bigger.
It’s the little routines in life, that when added up, compose a lot of the life we are used to. It’s the little things that drive us crazy about someone that we often miss the most. It’s not even about missing the words spoken but more about the loss of their presence. It’s simply the idea that he isn’t there if she needs him that will hurt the most. Sometimes it’s the little things that create the biggest ache.
Life never stays the same. It’s always throwing curve balls at us and adjusting is part of life. And while I know my daughter will be fine and that life goes on, I can’t help but be mindful her heart will ache deeply in one short month. In those moments, it will be my job as mom to make room for her pain and validate her sadness but also to remind her how lucky she is—lucky that she has someone she loves so much that makes saying goodbye so hard. For that, we should be grateful.