Friday, August 22, 2008

Half-Empty Nest by Barb McKone

Half-Empty Nest by Barb McKone

My daughter is gone.

After a whirlwind of activity, excitement and confusion, we pulled away from Truman State University last Sunday one child down, my first baby left behind to a suite full of giggling, texting eighteen-year-old girls.  My 15-year old son sat in the back seat, only slightly traumatized by the experience.  My husband and I were worse off.  I felt numb.  Blind sided.  I really didn't know what to think, or what to do.  Drive home, I guessed, but I kept feeling like we'd forgotten something.  What the heck was missing?  Finally I figured it out.  Gracie was missing.  It all happened so fast.

She didn't wave goodbye.  Didn't walk us to the curb.  We had stayed until the bitter end; she had places to go.  Freshman barbecues to attend.  My daughter was gone.

Let me tell you what else is gone.  

The mess.

I know I should be broken up about our sweet daughter having moved on to the next phase of her life, and I am.  Really.  I miss her every minute.  I expect to see her smile every time I drive up to the house.  If I dig deep enough, I can muster up enough tears to fill that joke of a sink in their suite bathroom.  The day after dropping off Gracie was the first day of school in our little town.  The sight of the happy kids with shiny new backpacks waiting for the school bus, hand in hand with their moms, nearly knocked me flat.  Wasn't that us, no more than weeks ago?  After a couple of hours of kleenexes, I snapped out of it.  I snapped out of it because, from my vantage point under the covers in her bedroom, I noticed the large, multicolored glob of dried birthday cake frosting on her bedroom wall.  I  hadn't been aware of the frosting fight in the bedroom.  I pulled back the covers, grabbed a kitchen knife and damp paper towel, and started chipping.  

Since finishing off the first pack of Mr. Clean Wipes, it's been easier to not fall too far into sentimentality.  I've found two phone cords and a favorite sweatshirt I "lost" last fall.  I've found duplicate sweatshirts of at least three she took to school, meaning three of her friends are missing theirs.  Which friends, we may never know.  I've found sales slips for clothes never returned after last Christmas and birthday, and a shelf of American Girl dolls I'd completely forgotten about. The missing Lacrosse letter, graduation cap and 8x10 senior photo were found behind a bookcase, and there really was a piece missing from the "broken" Dustbuster.  It's called a CHARGER, and it was under the bed.  It took three days, but her room is now the cleanest in the house.  It's HUGE.  I had forgotten how much larger rooms look when the floor is showing.  I've organized her drawers, what's left in them, and her closet is color-coded and spacious.  I'm thinking about moving in.

I've heard story after story about the moms who move their kids into their dorm rooms, organizing their drawers and labeling their desk supplies and hooking up their printers for them.  Tsk, tsk.  The kids should be independent.  Do it for themselves.  They're going off to college, aren't they?  Why coddle them?  What kind of mom would do that to their child?

Me, that's who.  

I love it.  I helped her pack, organizing t-shirts into tank, sports, sentimental, and fashion. Underwear was carefully laundered (by me) and sorted in much the same way.  In the dorm room, we chose a bed close to a closet with the desk underneath for more floor space and started unpacking.  She was gone in a flash, off to breathlessly meet new friends and make plans to meet up at the orientation events.  Small-world stories popped up every few minutes: I think I know you from camp.  Aren't you Robert's friend?   You're in my dorm?  On my floor?  OH. MY. GOODDD!  Four hours later, computer almost figured out and a tally of everything we'd forgotten in my purse, we shoved off.  It was time.  I was satisfied.  I'd organized her for one last time.  From now on, she's on her own.

Famous last words, right?  

Truth be told, I know that I did it more for me than for her.  I'm a little scared of my daughter being at college, so it makes me feel good to at least try to believe it that my last-ditch effort at organization might help her somehow.  She'll start out her first semester of college with her jeans separated from her sweats, and she may be able to study better knowing she has an extra set of clean towels on the shelf above the closet door and a hook for necklaces. Why it makes a difference to me, I don't know.  But somehow, I sleep better knowing I folded her pajamas. 

She called three times in the first three hours after we left.  She called to thank me for the plastic talking parrot from the Cracker Barrel gift shop (somewhere in Ohio- great green beans and cheesy potatoes) I left on her bed.  Hours of amusement.  She called to ask where her headbands were. Bottom drawer of the three-drawer stack on the left side of her closet.  She called to let us know the barbecue had been short and she and her her new "best" friends were getting ready for their first evening on campus.  She told us how much she loved her roommate "Cat"- she wasn't at all stand-offish as she'd first worried, just a little shy.  And, she called to thank me for helping in her room, unpacking and organizing her drawers, and making her dorm bed with her new comfy sheets, a thick new comforter, and matching pillows.  

Okay, now I'm getting a little misty.

She noticed.  I could hear a sweet genuine smile in her voice, and she noticed.  Maybe there's some hope after all.  Perhaps my need to separate push pins from paper clips will make a little bit of difference in her life.  Maybe the next eighteen years will be slightly more organized, and include a Dustbuster that's actually charged up from time to time.  

I can't give up  hope. 

In the meantime, I woke up in the middle of the night last night wondering if I'd ever taught her how to make my special laundry paste out of Clorox 2, Oxy-Clean and water.  Find an old toothbrush, dunk, and scrub scrub scrub.  Bra straps: good as new.  It'll also take the paint off your car.

Maybe next summer we'll perfect the laundry paste.  For now, I've done what I can, and my nest is half-empty.  
I need to go have a little alone time now.   I suddenly have the perfect spot for just that.


Amy Nathan said...

You've got me a little misty...

thanks for sharing a great story.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Good work, Mama!

And don't worry, just like a boomerang, she'll be back. For at least one or two more summers.

Angie Ledbetter said...

You've captured the whole mix of emotions in your post! Won't she be home for holidays...with all that dirty laundry just screaming for your special paste? ;)

Daisy said...

She'll be back, and the room will look the same way it always did. Oops, you probably didn't want to hear that! Mine is entering her senior year in college; she's moving a vanload into her apartment right now, today, all by her little self! Well, I did the laundry before she packed.
It does get easier. Sorta.

Barb McKone said...

Amy- Thanks for responding. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who seems to have the "mist" cycle on automatic.

Barb McKone said...

Judes- I know, I know. You'll keep helping me, right?

Angie- You're so right. I can't imagine that she'll really do laundry. I just wonder what she'll do for clothes until mid-October---


Barb McKone said...

Daisy- You must be so proud!! Good for you for stopping at the laundry, not packing and driving her. Sigh. I hope I'll soon be that grown up!!

susita said...

What a trip down memory lane! I could never have said it so well or so funny....but sure did feel it!
You will soon enjoy having some sleep, some of your nerves back and not biting your bottome lip quite so hard. She'll be home for Thanksgiving....get the washer dryer ready! susita

Barb McKone said...


It's nice to know that other friends, like you, Susita, went first and forged the way for the rookies like me. Thanks for the support. And for now, I'm freeeee!