Dreading days of an empty nest

Michelle Page is guest columnist for May 16, 2014

Memories are fickle things. Upon inception, they can evoke emotions such as anger, disappointment or disbelief. But years later, these same memories become cherished, pain and frustration long forgotten.

Case in point: Once upon a time, my oldest son decided to supplement the diet of our aquarium fish with fruit roll-ups.

Years later my "you did what???" reaction is replaced by the memory of that earnest face explaining his rationale as only a 5-year-old can.

And then there were my twins' We-Don't-Need-To-Take-A-Stinking-Nap days that they traded in for epic Wreck-The-Room-No-Holds-Barred activities to the point that it looked like an episode of "Hoarders."

Then: Twins for sale. Cheap. Now? Priceless.

Months away from Empty Nest-dom, memories such as these become more cherished by the day.

From the time these newborns were first placed in my arms, I knew they were on loan, one day forging identities and lives for themselves. I knew that each move toward independence, whether it was getting dressed, tying shoes or driving a car, signified a milestone in growing up.

And I also knew that each step to independence shortened the tether and dependence on me.

While these should be defining moments in our lives - they have reached maturity and I have been an integral part of nurturing it - I do not eagerly welcome, but, instead, dread the separation.

Just as one experiences "phantom pains" from losing a limb, I anticipate similar anguish from losing attachments that have been so much a part of me for so long.

One of the most emotionally challenging aspects of letting go is trying to be optimistic and upbeat about the journey your child is getting ready to embark on while battling your own narcissistic feelings of being abandoned and forgotten.

Thanks to technology, it is easier than ever to stay in touch, but phone calls and texts will never replace seeing sleepy-eyed children at the breakfast table or hearing the sounds of slamming doors and footsteps as they arrive home from school.

I find it ironic that my "can I please have 5 minutes of peace and quiet" is the "sound" that I now dread the most.

As I reflect on my own childhood, I remember the most absurd thing ever uttered by a parent (my dad) after I left for college.

He said, and I quote, "I miss vacuuming the hair off your bathroom floor." At the time, it was an eye-rolling moment. But now I get it. Dad, I really get it.

What I wouldn't give now to walk by that room upstairs to see my half-naked twins with every drawer ransacked and the floor littered with toys.

As much as I love my children, motherhood is without a doubt the most emotionally challenging and soul-changing experience imaginable.

It has given me a passing understanding of the term schizophrenia. The same children who smothered you with sticky kisses and presented you with fistfuls of handpicked daisies are the same ones who later break your heart by making poor choices and challenging your parenting advice.

Just as the challenges of raising children has changed from toddler antics to teenage shenanigans, so have the tone of my prayers. Gone are the simple prayers for health and happiness; now I pray for firm guidance and protection from evil.

And now that they are perched to fly, I pray "to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). Let me remember that moments become days, and days become years, because years will slip away like sand through my fingers no matter how tight I squeeze.

Each moment needs to be treasured, captured, remembered because each moment will one day be a memory.

But, alas, recent research does give me hope that this empty nest "condition" may be temporary.

It seems that about 20 million 18-34 year old adults (yes, you read that age right, 34) are still living at home.

This would be my luck. Just after I converted their rooms into a gym and media room, here they come again. And I would welcome them with open arms. (Just stay out of the fish tank.)

Michelle Page is a kindergarten teacher who lives on Isle of Palms with her husband and three children.