The Good Life: The Not Quite Empty Nest

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

The Not Quite Empty Nest

My son is leaving home. Not today or tomorrow or even a month from now, but in 9 months he will begin a new life. The metaphor for this new evolution and birth are not lost to me. This time he is going to college.

When he was a little boy, a really little boy, we’d prop him up next to college entrances for a quick picture as we drove our minivan (we’ve had three) back and forth to visit family on the east coast, and later in the Midwest. We stopped doing that when we realized that he worried he was going to college soon…like at ten years old. Now that joke isn’t so funny. Like mothers everywhere, I want him to go. It really isn’t even a question. I want him to go somewhere beautiful and fun. I want him to research and make discoveries. I want him to meet the people who will be meaningful to him quite possibly for the rest of his life. I understand his journey deep in my bones. I’ve done it myself.

As he’s taken standard tests and visited with college representatives, I’ve thrown myself into researching possibilities, comparing acceptance rates, SAT scores and school sizes. I’ve suggested the Peace Corps or a “gap year.” I can tell you the top five Universities in the nation, the number one party school, and the college with the most a cappella groups. We’ve gone to information sessions, campus tours and personal interviews. When I say “we” I want to mean “he,” but at our house, finding his next home is a family affair and most certainly a labor of love. My husband took him to the west coast, I took him to the southeast. We tell him about our experiences. We listen to his hopes and fears, not entirely unlike when he was small. The month of October has been thickly mired in essay writing and late night discussions. He now thinks California may be too far away.

Sam’s siblings are starting to wonder about life without him. My youngest is already planning to visit. I, however, can hardly breathe thinking about his actual departure day. At its worst, that day feels like an inevitable, heart-breaking break-up. A break up that is not mutual, but is mutually understood. My husband isn’t there yet. He is excited for Sam’s next stage in life and is anticipating lower grocery costs and a quieter house. This again reminds me of imagining our boy’s arrival almost 18 years ago. His dad was thinking about baseball gloves and bike rides; I was feathering our nest and experiencing a profound metamorphosis.

This nest of ours isn’t empty yet. I am grateful to have two more fledglings who are at different stages of small departure of their own. I’m not sure where all this leaves me. I think I used to read more and visit with friends. I did less laundry and more projects. I’m pretty sure I was happy then, too. I am filled with gratitude that I still have nine months.

Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.

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