We have a new nest. It's in St. Petersburg, and it has a pool, which is a huge luxury. It was built in 1940 and is in Historic Kenwood, which we love. Our new hood is artsy and progressive. We have a brick street. I always wanted to live on a brick street. It also has an annex, aka the studio. The annex is perfect for guests and daughters who are now away at college. We are also near some really excellent friends. We moved so my husband wouldn't have to commute 10 hours a week. We're still very near family, and we like this city.
But to state the obvious, Dante should have included moving in The Inferno. It's definitely one of the seven circles of hell. I hate packing and feeling disoriented.
We sold our old house, a 1957 bungalow that once belonged to my grandmother, and which we loved, to really nice people. We miss our old neighbors. We know nothing about the people we bought from, apart from the fact that they were a bit reclusive (this neighborhood knows everything).
They left no instructions about how the house works, apart from a pile of manuals — I've spent A LOT of time reading manuals. But they had very good taste. They liked Ikea, and put in hurricane doors and that pool, which is heated by solar. So thanks, guys. (But if you'd left the paint color names, life would have been a lot easier, as we now have to repaint everything. You had a LOT of art, and thus a lot of holes.)
So, after we moved house, two days later I packed up my car again and drove my daughter to Florida State University. We then began the manic race to get her dorm room as habitable as possible before I drove the four hours home to a house filled with unpacked boxes. Husband stayed behind (he couldn't fit in the car) and worked hard to lessen the chaos. He shows his love by feathering our nest (sorry) — he fixes things and make things nice. It eased the pain I felt due to exhaustion and that massive event of my daughter leaving home.
I know that empty nest syndrome is real, and I also know that it's been hard for my friends who have sent their kids off to college. But my God, you don't know until you know. Just as you can't tell a pregnant mother what it feels like to give birth — they have to just do it (and it's mean to tell them how much it hurts anyways, because it's not like they can opt out) — you also can't explain the feeling of having your heart ripped out as you hug your child before you walk out of the dorm that first time. My mother cried when I graduated from high school. I thought she was nuts. Now I get it. My friends who have done it get it, and provide the support and comfort. I am grateful. I will do the same for others.
That sadness makes no sense. You spend years preparing them for higher education, urging them on, helping them with applications, celebrating their wins, listening to them as they figure out who they are. Then, when they finally get what they worked so hard for, and what you helped them with, you cry about it. How utterly bizarre. Because chances are, if they were living in your basement (or in our case, our annex), then we all might not be so happy about it. They are supposed to become independent, to learn to solve problems, to form relationships with people you've never met — figure out who they really are, and want to be.
I cried hard. My daughter cried hard. We hugged hard. I drove in driving rain (so dramatic) for two hours, stopped at a McDonald's in the middle of nowhere, bought a coffee, and cried some more. Then I drove another two hours. When I got home, I was exhausted. I had that feeling that you get when you come home from a funeral. Weird.
But as the weeks have passed, it's gotten better. It's gotten easier. Because SHE has gotten better, and is settling, and her happiness is growing. Her homesickness is receding. She is learning how to function with 39,999 other kids. The academics is no problem; it's the new environment of a million things going on at once, and living with your peers. And fortunately, I actually like my husband. He's great company.
It's also a huge milestone. I gave birth. I wiped her nose and gave her hugs and time outs. I laughed with her and traveled with her and yelled at her. I loved — love — her more than can be quantified. And that period of birth to 18 is now over. It's such a cliche to say, Where did the time go? But there's a reason everyone says it. She has moved into the next exciting chapter of her life, and so have I, with my husband and friends and my own parents and siblings. Hell, even the cats have had to adjust. They don't know where she is.
And dare I say it, it's a reminder that we're getting older, like a milestone birthday. Which is perfectly fine, considering the alternative. There are still many exciting things to do. But like weddings, where you cry because you're happy for the marrying couple, you also cry when your child goes to college. My heart is happy, but there's a hole in it. Because of love. And that's okay.