I knew this was coming, but sometimes knowledge isn’t as useful as we wish it was. This week, within two days, Ken and I go from people who have lived with their kids in varying configurations for 26 years to empty-nesters. On Aug. 18, Daniel moves out to begin his masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On Aug. 20, Forest moves out to immerse himself in journalism school at the University of Kansas.
From past bouts of grief-crazy nest-emptying I’ve learned how much being a parent means being an animal connected to another animal. Eight years ago, I cried on and off most of the way home from Newton, KS, where we left Daniel to begin college, and for the next week, found myself curling up in his bed and sobbing in between opening the fridge with great joy that all the groceries I bought were still there. Five years ago, I did it again, this time driving Natalie on my own to the Twin Cities. While she attended vibrant orientations at her college, I multi-tasked: I cried hysterically and got lost all over St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Now, just back from Vermont, I’ve landed at home in the middle of mayhem, laundry, and the dance of desks. Turns out the massive, oak desk a friend gave Daniel fit into my car (which involved unbolting seats) but wouldn’t fit into his, so yesterday, we moved that surely-heavier-than-a-refrigerator desk into Ken’s office, Ken’s desk onto the porch where it quickly found a home with a friend, and Ken’s grandpa’s old green metal desk into Daniel’s car. Meanwhile, there were hundreds of t-shirts to fold while sorting things into staging area #1 (Daniel’s), and staging area #2 (Forest’s).
When I’m not doing such things, I feel lost and confused. Today as I drove to meet Kelley for pizza, I wondered what I would eat because I wasn’t the least bit hungry. Half an hour later, I had eaten most of the pizza we were sharing, plus dessert, and I could have kept eating, all sensors broken on what’s enough or too much. Later, I took too much time picking out laundry detergent for Forest and ended up missing yoga class. I froze in an aisle of Target, wondering what to do. Go home and pack more for Daniel? Clean the basement and re-arrange all the furniture? Drive to that frozen custard place at high speed? Take a nap?
I couldn’t tell so I aimed myself to a thrift store, where a man in the next aisle sang out to me, “I am standing in the middle of the field of mystery.” I wanted to sing back that I was standing in such a field too, but it turned out he wanted my opinion on whether an embroidered foot stool was worth $10, and the last thing I could do was conjure up an opinion. I gathered the flannel pajama pants I found for Forest, but fled the store after finding that a woman in line in front of me had at least 50 items in her shopping cart.
Instead, I made myself go do something physical, which seems like the only sensible thing to decide when a person can’t decide anything, and in 20 minutes, I was in the pool swimming laps. I wish I could say the motion and water calmed my ramped-up mind, but it was more that my ramped-up mind found a great rhythm for keeping its pace while I swam. What was I thinking about? How to pack Daniel’s car, which I just did, playing to my strength of squeezing too much stuff in too little space. I delighted in piecing a down comforter into a tiny space between a toolbox, violin, and computer speakers.
Now that Daniel is ready to roll first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll be aiming my attention to staging area #2 in between bumping into myself coming and going, all the time pacing, swimming, packing, hauling, and standing around very confused, sad, excited, stunned and perhaps even joyful in a field of mystery.