I never thought of myself as someone who defined herself by her children. Whose life was so closely intertwined with theirs that I would feel lost once they left home.
But apparently I am.
I have always worked, even when my kids were little, but they were usually close by. I would juggle them in my arms, making goofy faces to entertain them while trying to conduct a professional interview over the phone, or write an article on deadline in the middle of the night while they slept soundly in the next room.
So now, although I love traveling around the world, hanging around the house pantsless with my beloved hubby and not getting up in the middle of the night worrying whether everyone's home yet, there is an emptiness deep down that I can't seem to fill with anything else, no matter how great it may be.
Because there is nothing that can take the place of my kids.
My youngest, Sara, graduated college a couple of weeks ago and when she drove away yesterday to start her real life (meaning, her life in which I have been demoted to a supporting role), I unexpectedly burst into tears. This totally surprised me because I was totally behind her (well, not literally, although, trust me, I was tempted), encouraging her choices and even singing the Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Spaces" with her repeatedly.
At her college graduation -- and at my son, Alex's, two years ago -- I was actually pretty composed. That was not the case when we first left Alex at college and I sobbed like a baby in the parking lot. I sensed that was the beginning of the end and now, six years later, with Sara graduating, I know my kids' childhoods are officially over.
As a mother -- as their mother -- that just makes me sad.
Of course, I'm happy that they're doing exactly what they should be doing now -- which is leaving home to start their own lives and doing whatever makes them happy. Honestly, I wouldn't want them to be home at this stage. I genuinely want them to go out and have big adventures, fall in love, see the world, make their dreams come true.
I just want them to keep sharing all of that with me.
So I guess I'm really feeling more nostalgic than sad. I can totally relate to my friend, Lisa Heffernan, who so eloquently wrote that the hardest thing about having your kids leave the nest is that you start to know them a little less.
When Lisa and another friend of mine, Sharon Greenthal, were on Katie Couric's show last week talking about how to deal with an empty nest, Katie quietly admitted, "I think part of the reason I'm having a hard time with this is because it makes you profoundly aware of aging."
That made me gasp because it was like an "aha!" moment. Was this really all about me and not about my kids? Was I missing the old -- well, young -- me more than I was missing them?
I think it's probably a combination. Kind of a perfect storm of life stages.
My kids have left the house, my husband has retired, my parents are elderly and my dog is gone. Whose bright idea was it to make me go through menopause during all of this?
My hormones have no idea what to react to first.
So, tonight, I will get into the shower, try to figure out which shampoo might possibly have a positive effect on my newly dry/oily hair and have a good cry over the children my kids are no longer. Then I'll text them (I wait for them to do the actual calling) to tell them how proud I am of the adults they've become.
And, as they move on with their lives, I'll move on with mine.
I may no longer be that 21-year-old girl who has her whole life in front of her.
That would be my daughter.
I'm that 55-year-old woman -- you know, the one with the dry/oil hair and the raging hormones -- who is looking forward to the rest of hers.