Thoughts of the empty nest days clearly began long before I started writing this blog. With every thought, the knot in my stomach grew just a bit tighter. Then, I had an epiphany. I figured if I just write about this journey, anticipate the emotions, plan my reactions, embrace this time, I could breathe through this transition like a woman in labor.
Who was I kidding?! Lamaze breathing, I’ve discovered, really only works in the labor and delivery room where an epidural is available on demand.
Roughly 27 days ago, I escorted my older daughter to the airport to begin a month-long leadership development/exchange student adventure. Three flights and a little over 30 hours of travel later, she would touch down in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. At the security gates, I sent her off with a kiss and a hug. Secretly tucked in her carry-on was my heart. I know, because it didn’t start beating again until I received this brief email 48 hours later:
Dear family, Hi. I am here and safe. The plane ride was boring and I just read until the last flight when I slept. So that is about it. I just wanted you know that I am safe and I'll see you next month. Love, C P.S. Just incase you hear I did get sick in China but I'm fine now so DON'T worry about it. Love you all.
I read her words quietly that first Saturday morning; her younger sister and my husband still in bed. It was my dessert to savor for just a bit without sharing. Like a rusted old factory machine starting up after years of quiet, my heart pounded its way back into a regular rhythm. Then I re-read, “I did get sick in China…”
Who cared for her? How sick? What kind of sick? Is she better? Did it require medication? Was she sick on the plane? Who cared for her? How sick? What kind of sick?
You get the picture…it was a bad song, on repeat. I emailed her back, trying to sound calm and casual enough she wouldn’t “cut me off.” It went like this:
Dear, dear C, Thank you SOOOOO much for letting me/us all know you are there and safe. Long plane rides can be very boring, but I am glad you got some rest on the last flight. I am sorry you were sick in China, and I hope you are feeling better now. I would imagine you were probably exhausted! I hope you have had a fabulous first day there and that we get at least another "check-in" from you. Know that we are thinking of you and are all very excited to hear about your many adventures. Love you so very much, Mom, Dad and L.
What you just read was the (at least) 4th draft of my hysteria-removed reply.
That first week flew by. We kept in regular contact, exchanging brief notes about our days. Though I let her know I was thinking of her, I consciously refrained from writing the words, “I miss you.” I feared making her feel homesick or somehow clouding her journey with guilt. And, I feared losing myself in a state of worry over things I couldn’t control. I remember thinking, ‘With email, this won’t be so bad.” I also had another child here that, for the first time in her life, got me all to herself, and I didn’t want to taint her/our month of fun/memories/growth.
At the end of her first week, she traveled on one of the few paved roads out-of-town, leaving behind the capital city and regular internet access. I have heard from her only once in almost 3 weeks–another brief email when she arrived in the next town:
Hey. Just wanted you to know that I'm here and safe. I'm having a great time and taking SO many pictures. Lots of love and I hope you're having fun camping. Hope to hear from you soon, ~C
The emails that first week had helped, a lot! It’s been a very loooooong 3 weeks since her last contact. She left this town last weekend, is now living in a ger camp, witnessing the Nadaam Festival and is unlikely to email before she gets on a plane this Friday (her time, tomorrow night mine!) She’ll face another 30+ hours of travel before she is back in my arms. “Back in my arms”…I really like the sound of that.
Nonetheless, I am so very glad for this past month. It has given all 4 of us a chance to grow in ourselves and in relationship with each other.
My older daughter will (presumably) come home more self-confident having accomplished something she wasn’t sure she could do, with memories that are solely hers, independent of the family. I have also read in her emails how much she missed and truly values her family. All first steps in branching out.
My younger daughter, by her own admission has grown in her self-confidence and has opened up more with me and her dad, creating a tighter bond among the 3 of us. Though very close with her sister, she is discovering who she is outside of her big sister’s shadow. She has been a delight to share this special time with, and it is clear she is ready to have her “Sissy” and best friend home.
Perhaps more than ever, my husband has become aware of just how quickly time is passing and that this “test run” will soon be a part of our regular reality. To me, he feels more engaged and open despite the fact he kept his emotions (around C’s absence) guarded. He is a daddy that has missed his little “Boo-boo.”
And I have grown… grown in relationship with my younger daughter, my husband and myself. As often as I thought of my older daughter, I didn’t let it cloud my time with my younger one. I wanted to be sure we had a special time with special memories of our own to share when her sister returns. Though her sister wasn’t here to “entertain” her, I made sure I maintained time alone with my husband, keeping our relationship on track. As for my internal growth during this past month–well, I’m still sorting through that pile of ups and downs. Perhaps, a post for another day.
But for today, as much as I am thrilled my C had this chance to test out her wings in this big world, I am really glad she is returning to my nest for a little while longer.
Now, to resume breathing…