Regular readers of this column are somewhat familiar with my family as I write about them often. As you read this I will have just returned from dropping our youngest (of three) daughters off for her freshman year at Elon University.
Yes, Patti and I are officially empty nesters.
I write this with a lump in my throat. Five years ago, we embraced our eldest daughter, Gabrielle, as we moved her into her dorm at Brandeis University outside of Boston. Today, Gabi, having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, now works full time in New York City.
Three years ago, during a steamy August afternoon in Gainesville, I schlepped clothes, lamps, linens and supplies into the Broward Hall dormitory at my alma mater, the University of Florida, as our middle daughter, Courtney, began her collegiate studies. She’s now a senior, who will graduate this May, and then plans to further her studies towards earning a doctorate in physical therapy.
And now it’s Madison’s turn.
Our youngest. She’s a spitfire, in a good sense, and I know will do just fine at Elon. I’m not at all worried about her adjustment to college life. She, like her sisters, for several years attended summer sleepaway camp for a month while growing up. Last summer she completed an overseas Spanish immersion study program outside Madrid. Being away from home for extended periods of time is nothing new to my daughters, and they’ve never shied away from it.
In fact, I believe they enjoyed having a little time away from their mom and dad. In a way, it made us all appreciate one another a little bit more when we’re together.
No, I’m not worried about Madi. It’s me I’m worried about. With each daughter’s departure, I felt as if a little piece of my heart left with them.
Patti and I hoped to raise, and are very proud that we did raise, three alert, smart, kind, confident and independent daughters. The price one pays, however, for such success, includes children who aren’t afraid to venture far from home. Children who’d rather intern in some far away city over the summer break. Children who will likely settle (as one already has settled) nowhere near the sleepy resort community where they grew up.
When our daughters were toddlers we commonly heard the refrain, “Enjoy them now, as they grow up fast!” When you’re in the middle of raising kids, putting up with bouts of strep throat, late nights of homework, scraped elbows, disappointments with friends, and the many other things that go along with that adventure, it seems like childhood will last forever.
Except, as I drive with my daughter in her Honda from here to North Carolina, I can’t believe that we’re at this crossroads. Wasn’t I recently complaining about the cost of her dance recital dress? That was eleven years ago now? Really?!
Intellectually I know that this is the result we were after. I also understand that there are many good times ahead of us. We have more college graduations to attend, careers to launch and weddings to throw. Our oldest daughter Gabi has been in a serious relationship for quite a while, for example. Will this guy be the one? I hope so. I like him. But then, one thing I’ve learned raising three daughters is to keep a healthy distance from matters of the heart. That’s something they must work out for themselves.
Many of my clients tell me that grandparenthood is even better than parenthood. I’m sure that there will be many benefits and I’m looking forward to seeing the next generation come into being. Although, frankly, I’m not anxious for that either. Not yet, at least.
No, for now I celebrate triumphs and new beginnings. But I also mourn a loss. My young family has disappeared. It’s morphed into something else. Something greater.
Even so, I still see, in my mind’s eye, the face of my little girl in pigtails, even though that’s not really the person who attends her first college lecture in a matter of days.
© 2018 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.