I begin the morning routine of making sure teenagers and a preteen are getting ready for school, knocking on 3 bedroom doors, hearing 3 sleepy voices. When I walk past the empty room, I close the door.
I’d peeked in last night, just to face it. There are a few pieces of furniture she didn’t want, some things for her siblings to pick through, and her high school graduation gown hanging in the closet, but no bed, no clothes on the floor, no makeup on the dresser. And it isn’t just her empty room, it’s that her contacts are no longer on her bathroom sink. Her car keys aren’t on the foyer table, and when I pack lunches, I notice her prescriptions and vitamins are no longer in front of the peanut butter. Her shoes aren’t by the door, and I’m choking back tears because even though the pile of shoes used to drive me a bit crazy, I’ve been patiently reminding myself the past few months that seeing her shoes meant she still lived here.
I’d adjusted to sharing space and time with another adult to whom I’m not married, often postponing workouts to see her before she left for work and getting laundry done during the week so she could wash clothes on weekends. We had our rhythm. Sometimes our paths never crossed. She’d come home to a sleeping house and the rest of us would wake and leave before she got rolling, and this would go on several days in a row until she’d come through the door while we sat at dinner, and we’d all enjoy the surprise of eating together as 6. She’d grown into her own life more than her own rhythm, and all of us tried to believe it might not be so hard when she made a place of her own.
Last night, we did what families do and helped her situate, feeling happy for her and happy for a chance to be depended on. We waved from the foot of her stairs and she smiled behind her new door – proud, happy, ready – and we drove home, where only 5 people live.
Her shoes are no doubt sitting by her new door, where her dream of independence is being fulfilled. And I’m happy and I’m sad, and I’ve got plenty of happy-sad moments under my belt already, but I didn’t cry on first days of kindergarten. I didn’t cry when toys were willingly stuffed into donation bags, when I was no longer needed or wanted for reading books aloud, or when I could no longer help with math homework surpassing my intellect. I didn’t cry at elementary, middle, or high school graduations. And even this morning, when I carried my youngest and laid her in bed because she was too stuffy for school and too dizzy for stairs, I didn’t cry that my baby is nowhere near the size of a baby.
I’ve sent children off to camp and watched them disappear down airport hallways for their first flight alone. I raised them to grow, want more, and need me less, so they could dream and try and become. I’m raising them to fly, but it feels different when they do, and I realize the choosing of motherhood and extravagant love is also the choosing of inevitable empty places. This is life – mine, theirs, hers – and life feels different when it’s no longer neatly framed in the ‘ours’ of the same house. Love feels different. That’s reason to cry, I suppose.
A friend asks how I’m doing and since she knows about empty rooms, I tell her I usually know little about feelings, but I can’t unfeel the empty places, I can’t make sense of an emptier house when my heart is so absolutely full. And I know it will be ok, just not today.
“Yep,” she answers back. And that’s good enough for me.