My youngest daughter Katie moved out of our house last Monday. She had moved out originally about two years ago to move in with her boyfriend, but she didn’t really “move out” when she left. All Katie took then was her clothing and her personal care items. As far as I’m concerned, you haven’t really moved out until there is no room with your name on it in your parent’s home. You haven’t moved out if there is still a closet full of your things and shelves that contain your books, your CDs, and your artwork. You haven’t moved out if your bed is still covered with your sheets and your comforter. And if you are a parent, you know what I mean when I say “your sheets and your comforter” because there is no way that I would ever buy teal sheets and a pink zebra stripe comforter for any bed I’d call mine. Unless there is someone else begging for such a thing, pink zebra stripes just don’t happen in my house. They. Just. Don’t. Happen. So when Katie moved in with her boyfriend and those teal sheets and the zebra striped comforter (Pink! It was PINK!) continued to stare at me from the doorway of her bedroom, I knew that she hadn’t really “moved out.”
And then Katie moved home in a wash of tears this July, heartbroken after ending her engagement with a young man she still cared for very deeply even though she had realized that he wasn’t going to be her forever-guy. The first couple of weeks were pretty tough, and occasionally she’d cuddle up next to me, teary-eyed and aching. As a mom, I was really torn between hurting for my little girl and reveling in being able to take care of her again. After a long rest from having to take care of her because she was still immature and a minor, it was good to be able to choose to take care of her now that all she needed from me was emotional support and someone to make blueberry pancakes to soothe her broken heart.
It was nice having Katie at home again. She moved out at 18, young and stubborn, certain that she was smarter than her father and I were and behaving in ways that made sure we knew that she thought so. She moved back home at 20, wiser and more patient but still incredibly strong-willed. Katie was open with us about what she had learned about herself, both the good and the bad. Her father and I were stunned at how much she had grown up. Katie had grown up so much, in fact, that her older sister Alex noticed and invited her to move into her condo when the current roommate’s lease ended in November. I listened in while they discussed what it would be liked to live together…silently stunned at how excited they were at the idea of being together again after so many years of living separately. (Alex moved out four years ago while she was still in college.)
And then the roommate vacated the property suddenly to move in with his girlfriend and…my baby girl started getting ready to move out.
Katie and I went to the storage unit and looked at the furniture she inherited from her grandma to see what she’d need and to measure the items in advance of the move so she could plan where to put things in her bedroom at the condo. She went through all her belongings and got rid of old keepsakes from high school that no longer meant anything to her. She packed everything that she didn’t get rid of…which meant that everything came out of the closet and off of the shelves. She took the posters off of her walls. She packed up her bedding and took apart her bed. Remember I said that Katie had grown up so much? Well…she ditched the pink zebra stripe comforter and asked for a reversible black/grey one that would contrast nicely with the teal sheets. I took the pink and black monstrosity to Goodwill yesterday in the aftermath of the move and discarded it along with the other remaining evidence of my baby girl’s recent adolescence: a huge stuffed green frog that was a present from an old boyfriend and a hairy pink area rug that she thought matched that horrifying pink comforter, which it did…if you are talking about matching levels of bad taste.
Katie’s bedroom in the condo looks nothing like her bedroom did only a few days before she moved out. If you’d seen her bedroom in my house before she moved you would have sworn that a teenage girl lived there. If you could see her bedroom in the condo now, you’d know immediately that a young woman lives there. I guess she needed to make manifest on the outside the big change that happened on the inside over the last two years. My baby girl is a grown woman now.
I have spent the last 23 years of my life raising children, waiting for that day when they would finally be launched and I could get back to my own life. That day has come. I had a trial run for the last two years when Katie moved in with her boyfriend and I must admit that I really like being an empty nester. Except my nest wasn’t really empty. Everything that represented Katie was just down the hall in what we continued to call “Katie’s bedroom”. All her belongings sat there, like harbingers of an eventual return. She returned the first time when she had surgery just before Christmas 2013, and I got to play mommy for a week, taking care of her while she recovered. Then she returned again this July, returning to live at home for what will most likely be the last time.
I look into her room now and see the lovely shelves my husband Phil built, covered with our books and knick-knacks. I see the pictures from his mom’s home that we held on to in the hopes of finding somewhere to hang them…and now they hang in what will soon be called the “guest bedroom.” In the next month or so I’ll buy a bed to put in that room so we can actually have guests stay at the house. But right now, I can’t bear to put the bed there because that empty room is the evidence of a job well done that is breaking my heart. Phil and I have launched two beautiful girls out into the world. We finished the job we started in 1992, and I think we did well. So why am I crying?
The hardest thing about parenting is that you work diligently to teach them well and raise them to be successful, independent adults, and then you miss them so much when they succeed at exactly that. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those moms who doesn’t know what to do with herself when she doesn’t have anyone to take care of. I have plenty of things to do and lots to take care of. I have a purpose in life, and it isn’t limited to being a good wife and mother; my life is bigger than that. I guess I’m just realizing for the first time that Phil and I are actually DONE raising children. I can’t believe we actually finished! We will always be parents, and we will always be there for our kids, but I don’t think they need any more “raising”. If there is any more growing up to do, they are on their own to do that for themselves. I continued growing up after I got to legal adulthood, and I’m not sure I’m done yet. But my parents are definitely done raising me and have been for over 30 years…and now I’m done raising kids as well. Like all great moments of passage, this one deserves to be marked with tears and celebration. I’m doing the crying now…perhaps I should chill a bottle of champagne for later.
Spiritual thought for the day: this whole “child of the Kingdom” thing makes so much more sense to me now. God doesn’t do the empty nest–ever. There is always a bedroom with your name on it in God’s house, and we all end up “moving home” in the end.