The Empty Nest, Here We Go Again..

The Empty Nest, Here We Go Again..

The poem at the bottom of this post magically appeared in my in-box the night I returned home from moving my son into his dorm at UW-Madison to embark upon his freshman year of college. Move-in day was a day I had both dreaded and looked forward to for years. I returned home that night with my butt completely kicked from the emotional hemorrhage that went down. My heart was both heavy with grief, and bursting with pride. It was a difficult year, leading up to his leaving. The saving grace was knowing that my son was at his dream school, thriving and happier than he's ever been.

Like so many other life circumstance, I thought we were "ready" last August. I now know that I was prepared, but I was not ready. I didn't fully grasp that the Wings portion of Parenting 101 actually happens after they leave home. I now accept that I will most likely never be "ready" for him to go each and every time he comes home. And those times will be fewer and only be for a short while. As it should be.

Love wounds and challenges me. And mother-love sustains me. Letting Johnny go freshman year, I mean really go, was the most difficult thing I've ever done. Resisting the near constant urge to call or text was crazy hard. But it paid off. My son slayed freshman year and returned home to me in May every bit the amazing, confidant young man I knew he was going to be. And we just had the best summer!


It seems impossible that in four short days I will be moving Johnny again. This time into his first apartment in Madison to live with four of his childhood friends whom are also like sons to me, and four more guys they met at college. Soon, John starts his sophmore year, now a laser focused biochemisty major who made the deans list freshman year.

I am sad all over again to see him go. I don't imagine a parent ever gets over missing their child. But I am sad for different reasons than last year. I no longer feel the dread that comes with worry, or the feelings of impending doom and loss that John's leaving carried last year at this time. I will now miss the simple everyday tasks that before he went to college often annoyed me - the chaos of mothering. The uncertainty of single parenting. And the noise and mess generated by "my boys" living in my basement since May.

Chin-up, Buttercup. I've been told that moms drink free pre-Badger games and Johnny has season tickets. So there's that.

If you are dealing with a tsunami of emotion as you count down the days leading up to your child leaving for college and the dichotomy of emotions this event is going to dump on you - ready or not - buckle up. I want to share this poem with you. May it comfort you as it did me, and still does all over again.

(The following is an exerpt from the blog of Gretchen Schmelzer and the poem)

"Fledge. v. [flej]

- to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity;

- to leave the nest after acquiring such feathers

- to rear until ready for flight or independent activity

I love the fact that the verb 'to fledge' is reflexive in its own way. That it is both the act of leaving the nest, but also the act of raising a bird to flight. It is both."


“The Fledgling’s Prayer

These are my wings—
Feathers and muscles and sinew
grown from your love and care,
sewn and mended
with your devotion and constancy.

And now—
I am ready to soar
with all that I am,
from all that you gave me.

All flights are practice flights.
They happen in that
blessed space between us.
A space wide enough
to stretch my wings
but not lose touch.

Tossed into the air
an arm’s length away.
Jumping off the dock,
three feet away.
Dropped off at Kindergarten,
three blocks away.
Dropped off at college,
Three hours away.
All flights are big flights.

And how did this happen?
None of us ever knows for sure.
I think perhaps Joy and Sorrow
grabbed hands and leapt
—forming the wings
that carry me forward.

But remember no one leaps, really.

I didn’t fly because I
jumped—so much as I simply
forgot for a moment to hold on.
I did. I forgot.
I forgot because the wind,
or is it God? –
whispered in my ear,
and sang the melody of my future.

I forgot for a moment to hold tight
and the wind caught my wings
pulling me forward.
It does. Life pulls you forward.

You are not the wind beneath my wings
as that old song croons.

No, you are the wings themselves.
I carry you with me and
you will always carry me.

The wind? Well that is God’s song
for each of us, our purpose, our passion.
It is the tidal pull of the universe
helping me to find my place,
helping me to share my gifts.

And you, sitting proud and brave
on the edge of our nest.
This small prayer is for you.

May the sight of my wings flashing
and the tales of my long flights
bring you as much joy as they bring me.
I can hear the wind calling and my heart
is full of the hopes we have both carried.

The fullness of myself,
the fullness of your love,
and the fullness of the world you gave me
take up my whole being.

This fullness defies language
except to say
that it used to be the feeling
I had when I leaned on you,
when you had hold of me.

And now—oh joy—
the nest I used to rest in
has made a place inside of me.

But for you, as for me,
there is also sorrow.
I am sad that this prayer
is all I have to offer you
in return for my wings.

And my heart aches imagining views
and vistas we will not share.
Do they exist if you don’t see them too?
Do I exist, if you can’t see me?
If I forget you for a moment,
will you remember me?

I pray that we both may find comfort
in the pages of books you read to me long ago,
that no matter what—
we are doing or
no matter where we are flying—
we both live under the very same moon.
And all we need to do is to look up
in to the night sky
to know that we are still connected,
to know that we will always belong,
to know that wherever we are,
we are home.”
— Gretchen Schmelzer
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