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From Rush to Hush

September 3, 2012

Let me tell you something about my youngest daughter. She is loud. Correction, LOUD. Not vocally so much as doing things like thundering down the stairs, slamming the toilet lid, and her specialty: shutting doors. No matter how many times we’d tell her to please close the door quietly (at one point, I even demonstrated how to gently close the door and turn the knob so it latched with a soft click), Caleigh never seemed to get it. My husband and I soon gave up, looking at each other and shaking our heads when we’d hear the all-too-familiar click-BAM of the bedroom door upstairs.

I attribute it to her big and blooming personality. Ever since she was a little girl, Caleigh Shayne had charm and swag. When she entered high school as a freshman, even the upperclassmen thought she was cool and wanted to hang out with her. She had everyone (teachers included) eating out of the palm of her hand: a friend to all, genuine, savvy, fun and witty. Now off to college, Cal is beginning a new journey. For really the first time in her life, she’s a little fish in a big, big pond. The confidence she had in both the classroom and on the athletic fields will hopefully serve her well, because what was sure and straightforward in the smaller, sheltered world of high school is not so much anymore.

The business of mothering was also sure and straightforward. For the past twenty-two years, my world has been a flurry of school lunch checks, muddy cleats, smelly sneakers, long-distance games, scribbled parent permission slips, report cards, team gatherings, prom dinners, driving-driving-driving where kids wanted to go or needed to be. There was constant teaching of both major and minor life lessons, and a fair share of grousing (okay, nagging) over the dishwasher that never seemed to get emptied and complaining about damp bath towels draped over the closet door, instead of in the hamper where they belonged. Mother stuff.

But while I’m certainly still a mother and will be for the rest of my life, of course, it’s different now. The night Caleigh moved out, I opened the door to her bedroom and was struck by how quiet it was. Quiet, and still, like the expectant hush before a snowfall. It is still unsettling. No heavy scent of perfume (a/k/a skunk piss) lingering in the air, no raucous rap music my husband and I used to complain about, no teenspeak and laughter from skyping. In the wake of her leaving for college is this emptiness and ache, like a part of me is missing. Which of course, it is.

It was comforting on move-in day to see all the other mothers who were experiencing the same emotions. We’d flash rueful smiles that said, I know, isn’t this tough? as we passed each other in the cramped hallway. As parents, we realize it’s the ultimate goal to prepare your children for life and then (often reluctantly) send them off. You mentally rehearse for this event, tell yourself they’ll be home between semesters, count the days till fall break. You know, however, it will never be the same. And this is what stings.

Still, there are bright spots. The week unfolds more slowly, no hurrying to get to away games after work. A bag of chips lasts longer than a day. There is more time to ride the horse, to write the book. As the new proprietor of an empty nest, I’m finding that I, too, am beginning my own journey into uncharted territory. Both Caleigh and I will ask ourselves the same questions: who am I? what’s important to me? what now? But we will go our separate paths: Caleigh taking her “loud” into the dorm, blending with other new voices in the pandemonium that is college life—while I must learn to listen to myself, in the hush of this empty house.


From → Motherhood

  1. Joyce and Kevin Anderson permalink

    Thanks Tracy. Your essay brought stinging tears to my eyes. After my first full year with the empty nest, I now get that’s it’s more a new identity for me and a mourning of the loss of them in the everyday filling up of my life.

  2. I loved this poignant and well-written response, Joyce…thanks so much!

  3. Tami Valentine permalink

    Ya had to make me cry!? ha It’s been a little over a month since my oldest went off to college. I have 2 yet at home….but I just feel so empty. I miss him terribly….I know he’s only 4 hrs. away….but it feels like more. Out of my 3, I can remember everything about him as a baby and up. Is that strange? Thanks for sharing!

    • Tami, thank you for your comment – I know about the emptiness!! The house is so quiet now without kids. I am getting used to it, but I really miss them so much, and especially going to soccer games this time of year! I hope things get easier for you. It’s very hard on us moms, but we can take comfort in what an exciting time this is for our “babies.” I appreciate you taking the time to write!

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