I became an empty nester in the middle of a January snowstorm.
The snow began falling thick shortly after midnight. Plenty of time to turn black asphalt into a sloppy white slippery mess by 9:00am. Despite the thermometer reading 16 degrees and the sky reading more snow to come, my calendar read drive my daughter back to college.
And so, today was the day.
Regardless of the road conditions.
Or the condition of my heart.
I had expected my empty nest to come last fall. My emptying was delayed by 5 months due to my son’s unexpected health challenge. But with his return to college last week, today, the emptying has come.
Just as it should.
Driving straight into a snowstorm is not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good snowstorm. It is my favorite excuse to hunker down and get cozy. When my children were small I would take full advantage of their snow days and not move from the house until they returned to school.
But drive in the white stuff? Don’t even think about asking me to do that! I have spun 360s on too many patches of ice driving my children to and fro to ever again relish the idea of driving in the ice and snow.
And so I clutched the wheel tightly, my white knuckles matching the sea of white all around me.
Emergency road signs blinked their warnings: Slow down, hazardous conditions ahead.
How fitting. Here, on the cusp of living life without my children around me for the first time in 24 years of motherhood, I too had better slow down. Slow down and reflect on the joy of having taken them this far. Slow down and be thankful for all that they are becoming. Slow down and recognize that there will indeed be hazardous conditions if I don’t release my children to God, in trust, knowing that he loves them more than I ever could.
And perhaps most of all, on this day of letting go, I must slow down and recognize that God will also care for my mama heart – the mama heart that longs to nestle my children in my arms just a little longer and protect them all the days of their lives. God has my heart too as I release my children to their adult lives and to his care.
I heard it before my eyes understood what was happening. The sound was like a truck horn, but longer, deeper, strangely distressed in tone. The sound of a semi-trailer truck blaring its horn, the noise reverberating through the nearly 1-mile long tunnel. Was he trying to communicate with me? Was he getting closer and closer to me? Yes, the horn was his way of saying, I can’t slow down. I can’t change course. Get out of my way or you’ll get hurt.
How often have I been like this with my children as they grew into young adults? Unable to slow down and walk by their side, without feeling compelled to tell them which steps to take. Unable to change course and offer them support in the decisions they have made rather than offering them criticism for not making the decisions I would have made.
The thing is, our children do grow up, and they will change. They need us still, but they need us less. And they need us differently. They ask us in a million ways to slow down, to change our course. To love them still, but to love them differently. It’s time to pay attention to the changing conditions, or someone will get hurt.
Ignoring the double yellow line, I change lanes just before the 18-wheeler barrels past me and out through the tunnel, with two other semi-trailer trucks right on his tail. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.
I ascend the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the gray-white of a snow-laden sky rising up before me. Everything my eye can see is shrouded in white. Forests of sugarcoated trees emerge from a thick layer of white icing coating the ground. It is a vision taken straight from Candy Land, or perhaps Elf’s journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and in a blink the sheer beauty of the scene has transported me back to the sweetest memories of long ago days spent with my young children.
Interrupting my reverie, another emergency road sign catches my attention. Keep alert for changing conditions. Another fitting reminder for this mama on Emptying Day.
Everything about the condition of my home is about to change. I will return to empty beds. Empty dinner chairs. Rooms will remain tidy days after I put everything in its place. The silence threatens to be overwhelming.
The boots lay strewn on the laundry room floor, as if she’ll come waltzing in the back door and slip right into them. His bed left unmade, with only the coolness of the sheets beneath my fingertips to remind me that he hasn’t just emerged from them, his long lanky frame sauntering into the kitchen to bid me good morning.
There will be holidays spent without my precious children by my side. There will be holidays spent together but shared with their new loves by their side.
At the crest of the hill, the white road seems to disappear into the white sky, leaving me no choice but to trust that there is indeed a road ahead on which I may safely travel.
I don’t know what lies ahead. Will I enjoy my new freedom? What new activities will occupy my time and attention? How will my man and I rediscover a love that was originally shared by just two? Stretched to encompass the dimension of five, it will of necessity find a new shape when it is once more shared by two.
The wise King Solomon once said, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Today I enter the time between two seasons, a time to keep alert because the conditions are changing. These are the days to pray for comfort as the tears fall when I long for what used to be. These are the days to offer prayers of thanks when joy fills my soul for all that will be new in the days ahead of me. And these are the days to receive God’s grace as I accept the moment I am experiencing, irrespective of my emotional response to it, and know that I am exactly where I should be.