To My Parents On Their 34th Wedding Anniversary
“ I thought growing up would just happen. I did not know it would be hard.”
Is there a self-help book I can buy that explains how to survive empty nesting your parents? Is there some sort of nine step program that walks you through the emotional process as you make the choice to leave home, to surge out on your own, and leave your parents alone? So far I barely made it out of the first ring of emotional hell, the tormented conflict of deciding to leave, and I am now swimming in the second ring of soul sucking guilt.
When I was a junior in high school I procrastinated applying to college to the last night before applications were due. Forget even applying to them, I would not discuss a general area of the country I might attend school in. I just did not want to go. Not because “college was not for me” or because I was educationally worn out and wanted to go find my self in some non-profit-save-the-world mission in the African desert, I did not want to go because I did not want to leave home.
My friends would joke daily that I was not going to go to college and I would live with my parents forever, satisfied with sitting on the couch and hanging out with them everyday. But I did not see anything wrong with that. That sounded perfect.
I still think that sounds perfect.
I went to college. I went to college 900 miles away in a state where they deep-fry butter and say “oofta” and bike ride to work in blizzarding ten-degree weather. I studied overseas for six months, moved to another country not knowing a single other person. Then I moved back home.
And so did all my high school friends. And all my college friends. Except for all of those select econ majors who were the only ones to graduate with a useful degree and a job that did not require them to move back home due to extreme student-loan poverty. We all moved home awakened to how leaving our families behind made us appreciate home so much more. And now we all have to leave again.
It has been a little over a year since I moved back into my childhood room. A little over a year of working three mindless jobs during the day and coming home to my parents at night, deciding what to make for dinner and settling in to watch the Voice together.
They are the two people who had the oops baby that I am and raised me to the absolute best of their ability. They are the two people who have been selfless, hard-working and completely sacrificial of their own needs for mine for twenty-three years. So far my life has been full of opportunities and experiences that I don’t deserve, all because of them. They deserve to go to Europe for a month and see the world or to go back to school or to simply not have to work on the weekends and have the small luxury of watching football from Saturday morning till Sunday night.
And now I am going to leave? I am going to finally pack up and drive away and let my mom eat dinner by herself while my dad still works full time seven days a week at the age of sixty to provide for his family? How can I justify taking on the world when they deserve the world?
I think the next stage of this process is fear. Somewhere between the guilt and the acceptance of leaving is the fear. The fear of the time I am missing with them and of the unexpected, unpredictable, unknown future. Maybe it is some sort of first child syndrome. As the oldest child I am suddenly more aware of my parents fragility and the responsibility I have for them while my brother takes his turn to get lost in the fun of college.
When I decided whether or not to take a chance, be a big kid and move out my parents told me I could not factor them into my decision. I was not allowed to feel responsible for their happiness. My mom kept telling me that as a parent, however hard for them, seeing their kid grow, leave and succeed on their own is the bittersweet prize they receive for all their hard work. It gives them some sort of sign that they did something right.
So I am going to leave. In one weeks time I will be gone. Hopefully the next stages of empty nesting will bring less tears and more peace. But for now, I am going to have to suck it up and make the absolute most of this opportunistic life my parents have worked so hard to give me. If I can’t give them Europe or weekends off, at least I can give them a sign that when it comes to raising their children they could not have done anything more right.