Giving thanks along the road to the empty nest
Last week my sister-in-law invited me to lunch to catch-up and celebrate Thanksgiving. We live in the same school district, barely, but she with two younger girls and I with two older boys rarely see each other more than a couple times a year. My husband’s family isn’t cut from the tightest of knit but rather the loosest weave of fabric. Although not related by blood, my sister-in-law and I share a stronger bond: motherhood.
We met at the restaurant and before being seated she said she had big news. Her older daughter, a high school freshman, has her first boyfriend.
She nervously described driving them on dates to the movies and followed every detail by adding, “But it’s cute.” Then she whipped out her phone to share the first homecoming photos of her daughter’s group gathering for park pictures and a traditional dinner.
The young couple recently celebrated their one month anniversary; to mark the occasion my sister-in-law sent a text to the boyfriend’s mom asking to meet for coffee since they’ve not met. The boy’s mom routinely circles my sister-in-law’s street; he jumps out of the car and into their house.
My sister-in-law said his mom never replied to her inviting text. She couldn’t understand why she didn’t share her enthusiasm to meet and discuss the teenagers dominating their lives.
Interrupting I replied, “He must be the youngest.” She reacted as if our napkins turned to tarot cards. She asked how I knew and added he’s not only the youngest but has married siblings. I laughed and said, “His mom’s over it—forget coffee.” My sister-in-law sat in stunned silence.
I flashed back to my older son’s first real girlfriend as a freshman. I admit I reacted similarly to my sister-in-law and peppered his girlfriend’s innocent mom with curious questions.
My son’s girlfriend happened to be the younger of two siblings, but thankfully her mom patiently and kindly calmed my anxieties without ever suggesting I seek therapy.
Today my older son’s a junior in college and younger son’s a senior in high school, and this teenage milestone feels like a lifetime ago.
I envy my sister-in-law sitting in her full, feathered nest unaware how empty it feels to have one flown and grown.
She walks down a hallway to see her daughter.
I drive down a freeway to visit my son.
She picks-up her daughter from high school and talks about the details of her day.
I send my son text messages between college classes hoping for an emoticon reply that day.
She tucks away and turns off her cell phone at night so she can sleep.
I place my phone on the nightstand and pray it stays silent while I sleep.
She waits evenings for her daughter to walk through their door at curfew.
I wait mornings for my son to call indicating he made it home at some time.
She planned a week-long family vacation during her Thanksgiving break.
I pleaded for 48 hours of family time during his two-day Thanksgiving break.
Reminiscing with my sister-in-law over our Thanksgiving lunch, I remembered my freshman fears and empathize with her. We share a strong bond, but we’re still separated by the defining high school graduation divide. As mom of a freshman in high school, my sister-in-law’s holding on and finding her footing. Me, as a mom of a senior in high school, I’m letting go and losing my footing.
My sister-in-law’s just merging onto the empty nest highway looking out the windshield marking heartwarming high school firsts. Whereas I’m nearing the end of the road looking in the rear-view mirror counting down heartbreaking high school lasts.
As we left lunch we hugged, and I reminded my sister-in-law to give thanks for every minute of motherhood. The rear-view mirror doesn’t lie: the empty nest is closer than it appears.