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An Empty Nest State of Mind

A few weeks ago my family and I went to New York so we could check out Parsons at The New School where my youngest child, Faith, will be attending later this fall. I have to admit, as someone who loves New York and spends a good amount of time there, the idea of my baby spending the next 4 years there has not been sitting well with me. 

At all.

And I know, this isn’t really about me. That this is an incredible opportunity for Faith. That 4 years in New York will shape you into a citizen of the world. 

Logically, I know all the things, but it doesn’t mean I believe them

It probably doesn’t help that I know what it’s like to be a teenager in a city, living on my own, running the streets with my friends at all hours of the night. I think its safe to say that my behavior and past experiences are not only informing my fear, but fueling it like gasoline on fire. 

It’s actually best that I leave my experience out of this.

At 17, I ran away from home and legally emancipated myself from my parents. Though I lived with a family my final year of high school, I had a huge amount of independence and very little adult supervision. I had to take care of myself and didn’t believe I had anyone to rely on.

When I think about how I lived and the way I carried myself I could tremble. What I thought street smarts were and how I carried myself was not just naive, it was bordering on stupidity. 

My children have had the opposite experience. 50% of it designed, 50% of it fueled by circumstances. 

I don’t know that I would have had the same relationship with my kids if their Dad hadn’t passed away when they were little. It has mainly been just the 3 of us the last 13 years. The trauma of our loss re-shaped me in a minute. 

I’ve been more than available to them on a daily basis. 

Recently while talking to my dad, who I only just started developing a relationship with- not because he wasn’t there but because I’ve felt more than misunderstood by him- asked about our summer plans. I informed him that Nick was on the road the next 6 weeks and that Faith and I were making plans, but that they (Faith identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them) would be moving to New York at the end of August. 

He paused. “Wow Ash, this has got to be really hard for you. You’ll get through it, but the 3 of you have been really close. This is going to be a change for you. You never had an adult year not raising your kids” I said I’ve been trying to prepare myself for it and he offered, “you really can’t. You’re just going to have to flow through it and you’ll have some good days and some bad ones. But you will be fine. You always have been.”

Normally, my dad chops things up to ‘that’s life and you get through it’, but this wasn’t that. 

I’d offer that maybe we are starting to understand one another but the truth is, he’s probably always been this way; had this advice, a good listening ear combined with wisdom that he’s been sharing, I just couldn’t hear it. 

Who knows, maybe we’ve broken each other. 

Which is not unlike what’s happening for me on the flip side as a mother. I always tell people I had to die a thousand deaths to become the mother Nick and Faith needed. They did break me.

I’ve finally become the mother who wants to stay home and watch their shows, snuggle up on the couch, listen to them the read, lay in bed and read, cook them every meal and they are moving out. I can’t help but think about how cruel nature can be. 

How ironic that I’ve finally made it to the place mothers find themselves in the beginning, wanting to sit and be and now, it will only be me. 

Everyone who hears about Faith attending art school raves about how proud they are or how excited they are and I just watch them, secretly wishing I could feel this way about them leaving. 

I mean, of course I’m proud. I’m actually in awe of all that they’ve done to get here, but I question how do these parents do it? 

Are they this positive about their kids leaving, too? 

One woman I know who has children around the same age, said ‘I’m sorry’, when she heard about our recent New York visit. 

We held one another’s eyes and I thanked her. We sat in silence, sharing a moment that, up until then, I felt isolated in.

Aside from the conversation with my Dad, it felt like the only honest conversation I’ve had with anyone about it. 

You know, ‘felt seen’.

It’s not all been bad, sad and terrifying thinking or a collective state of anticipatory grief, though.

I did have a breakthrough moment with my therapist who helped me move from sentences like:

‘they are leaving me’ to

‘they are going away’. 

Which feels slightly better. He also reminded me that our kids don’t really go away anymore. 

Not with FaceTime and social interactions. All useful things to keep in mind. 

I think it’s safe to say that this generation has been raised slightly different then the ones before them. 

Kids are living at home longer. This makes me feel less codependent and more like a product of everyone else… which under normal circumstances I’d rather rebel. 

Like I said, the kids broke me. 

Back to the NY visit that brought us here…

There was a point while walking the campus streets that I found myself feel a sense of relief. A genuine excitement that this was their future.

I was quickly reminded how much I love this city. That New York doesn’t just chew you up and spit you out. I thought, yah we’re going to be okay. It took me by surprise.

Ironically, I witnessed Faith for the first time experience emotionally a little stress about their decision- “what if I don’t like it? What if it’s hard?”

I found myself reassuring them that there was a chance that there might be parts they don’t like and it might be hard at times. That is normal. 

And, that they can do hard things (thanks, Glennon) but more than likely they are going to have the time of their life. 

(Only later did it occur to me that this moment might have been my one chance to talk them out of this move) 

I woke up on our third morning to head out for a run. It was one of those perfect NY days. Blue skies, warm sun with a crisp breeze, people perusing markets, bands playing music… it was heavenly. There happen to be a parade celebrating the legalization of marijuana and it was no small parade. The streets were filled with people getting high while being escorted by the police.

Why is this important? Because I’m pretty sure I ran several city blocks inhaling the second hand smoke. I might have been high. I was unusually happy about the people everywhere and life in general. 

Excited. 

Euphoric.

A New York State of Mind. 

At some point while cruising along I found myself on a street with big swooping trees, brownstone buildings with stoops that called for you to sit, enough quiet to hear the birds and it occurred to me; I was running on the same street as the university that Faith would be attending.

I thought, I’m so happy for Faith. How amazing it is that this is the street where they will walk to school each day. I felt the biggest grin on my face imagining them walking to school seeing and hearing what I was. Carrying their art portfolio, surrounded by friends laughing and gossiping. 

You know, living their best life. 

No sooner did I think, “I love this for them”, did I hear this growling and moaning. I looked up and no less than 15 feet from me was this man with his pants down, jerking off. 

I couldn’t believe it. 

That this would be the same street my child was going to walk to school on.

I thought this is so New York; this fucking city will have your heart and cut you at your knees on the same block. 

Whatever high I was on was gone.

As soon as we returned to Austin Faith said, I love it here, but New York is where I’m meant to be.

That city is my home. 

Coincidentally, while in NY, a good friend of mine who has been living in Brooklyn was staying at my apartment with her friend. I thought, this is perfect. They will bring me the comfort I need. Young successful women who have navigated life there. Peace of Mind is only a conversation away. 

While we were catching up going over the last time we saw one another – trying to figure out if got together or did we just talk on the phone- I said, “wait, you were going on a date. You were in the car and we were on the phone!” 

She said, oh my g**! I didn’t tell you what happened, did I?! You’ll never believe this…” 

I said, “Tell. Me. Everything.”

She starts telling me how she’s out having a great time with her date and that it was getting a little late. Her parents texted her to see how she was. How the date was. It turns out they had actually met him before so she didn’t think much of anything. She fired off a text that she was having fun and then put her phone up.

Hours go by, it was late and it turned out, her parents had continued texting. And when they didn’t hear back they thought something had happened…. They filed a missing persons report and had the police sent out to find her. 

She was like, “can you believe that?!”

Mind you, she’s in her mid 30’s.

What I couldn’t believe was this…

That it never ends. We will never not worry about our babies. 

That this instinct to hold on to, want to protect and keep my babies home and safe, is normal. That it won’t matter if they are here or there.

That this is a mothers state of mind. 

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