Recently I was having lunch with a friend who asked if my kids might do better if I just backed off a bit and got on with my own life.

It was a valid question.

I’ve been chattering a lot about the loss of my kids this year, as my daughter has moved to Chicago and my son is leaving for college.

He admitted he doesn’t really get my emotions around this transition. His boys are adolescents, and there are probably many days he wishes he had an empty house. He said, “You’re still going to be their parent. What is really changing?”

I tried not to overwhelm him with answers and defensiveness.

But I probably did.

First, I explained I have plenty of years ahead for “getting on with my life”, and I will do just that very soon here. I told him I’d been intentionally focused on enjoying this magic moment in time with my kids—their last few years as children, their last few moments under my roof, a special season that would be gone in a blink. One I’d never get back.

I also claimed that if he were to ask my kids, they would confirm I had not been smothering them during this transition. (Hoping this was true.)

He wasn’t convinced.

“What is changing,” I said, “is I won’t get to enjoy the daily presence of the two people I love most in this world.”

At this, he nodded. I didn’t bother to mention the loss of all the things I have really enjoyed about raising babies, toddlers, children, and teens; or creating a household; or sleeping under the same roof with my favorite people. But I’ve been saying a long, steady goodbye to those things for years. This is a whole new level of goodbye that I know will be hard.

At least, I think it will.

I’m writing this eight days before I drop Jack off at school. People have been asking me how I feel about that, and my most honest answer is, I don’t know.

With Alex, I could barely hold in the tears—for the entire summer before she left. I could hardly read the orientation materials and I definitely couldn’t watch the emotional welcome video her college produced. I remember, more than once that summer, friends asking how I was doing and I’d choke out the words, “I can’t talk about it right now.” Alex’s leaving was the first ending for our little family, and I couldn’t figure out if we would even still even be considered a family with one of the three of us gone. I soon realized that, yes, we were. But also that our family was different.

This time, with Jack leaving, is not the same.

It’s both better and harder.

I have learned that there are beautiful gifts in letting go. Like when your child becomes a way cooler and wiser young adult than you were. Or when she turns into one of your best friends. Or when she overcomes obstacles without one bit of parenting advice. And, even better, when she still reaches out for support, by choice, not just by proximity.

But none of that will fully prepare me for next Tuesday when I drive home from Northfield and walk into my house and no one is home. And no one is coming home.

About that, I don’t know yet how I’ll feel. I suspect I will feel just about everything. Pride. Excitement. Anticipation. Grief. Loneliness. Loss. Panic. Fear. Bewilderment. Discombobulation. Relief. Possibility. Freedom.

I won’t know until I’m there, but that’s my guess.

My lunch friend was the first to voice it, but I’ve felt those same questions hanging in the air as (mostly) unspoken concerns (judgements? confusion?) in many conversations this past year. (“I’m definitely judging you,” laughed my friend.) I do know I’ve talked about this empty-nest transition more than other people going through the same season. I do notice that some of my friends who are dropping their kids off at college seem downright excited about their newly empty nest. I’m not sure if my difficulty with this transition is good or bad or neither. There’s a lot I’m not sure about.

For example (and perhaps this is proving his point exactly), I’m not entirely sure what I will be after I drop Jack off next week. This is so cliche, but I’m very aware that I now have a chance to redefine myself—and the first thing I probably need to redefine is what to call myself. For 15 years, along with freelance writer, I’ve called myself a single mom.

I’m still single. And I’m still a mom. But I’m no longer momming, and that single mom title is feeling tight around the shoulders and scratchy at the neck. It isn’t fitting anymore. I’m just not sure yet what is.

But I look forward to finding out.


By the way, I have the words of one good friend ringing in my ears. Any time we talk about this new chapter, which she is in as well (a year or two ahead of me), she nearly bursts with energy. She says, “I have thoughts on this. I have thoughts.” And recently she dropped a truth bomb on me. It was a second-hand truth bomb, originally spoken by the Dalai Lama, that I had somehow missed but you probably didn’t. She told me that he once said, “The world will be saved by the Western woman.” This feels relevant somehow, but also very distant, but also so close, but also scary. I’m just letting it swirl in the mix of all the rest of it right now.

Here’s to big endings and new beginnings and the great unknown, friends. xo


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