Puff, the magic dragon,
Lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
In a land called Honah Lee.
Little Jackie Paper
Loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax
And other fancy stuff….
Ah. Another motherhood adjustment. The words “empty nest” feel so negative to me, like I failed in some way, when it’s a normal part of life.
My only child went to live at his college this semester.
I was happy. He was ready. I also felt/feel sad too.
He’s doing great. We’re relieved that he has a very kind and an addiction-free roommate (gotta hope & pray for this combo these days).
It’s sad to watch his little poodle, Dolly.
She misses him a lot. We got her when Will was in third grade.
She slept with him, sat with him by his computer while he did homework and stayed under his arm while he watched TV in the evening.
She went on camping trips, skiing trips and hiking trips. She was there when the break-ups happened.
She was there when he toasted marshmallows around the fire ring in the back yard. She was there for walks around the lake. She was there when it was time to chop up downed trees with a chain saw. She was there to ride on his ATV in the woods. She was there when he was sick, when he had his surgery. We called her the healer poodle.
She is truly magical.
She was always there. Always happy. She “glows” when Will is around.
There’s like a happy emotional aura around her that you can actually see! It’s gold and pink!
Now he’s not around so much. He comes home on some weekends. It’s fun.
Meanwhile, she waits, sitting on top of the chair, looking for Will to come home. It’s her widow’s walk. When lights shine into the driveway, it looks like it’s him coming home late at night! She gets all excited. But then she sniffs the air, and realizes it’s only a passing car. She looks dejected.
Dolly is starting to adjust. She sits on top of Mommy in the evening now, when we’re watching TV. She’s coping. She’s created and to adapting to Plan B: namely Mommy.
I watch him move into young adulthood with lots and lots of love and pride and some sadness.
Where did this intelligent and sensitive young man come from?
Where did that little boy who explored the world with me go?
I remember when we went to the horse barn together every week, me to ride, him to play with another boy there. I remember going to Fort Lauderdale with him and my mother every winter…I remember his long blond hair…”Mama, do you see the big birds, mama?” “Mom, do you see the foxglove seeds! They’re sprouting!”
Goodness, the memories crowd me so much sometimes, they crowd my head; the memories feel like they’re happening now.
Together they would travel
On a boat with billowed sail.
Jackie kept a lookout perched
On Puff’s gigantic tail.
Noble kings and princes
Would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags
When Puff roared out his name.
How can 19 years have gone by so fast?
A dragon lives forever,
But not little girls and boys.
Painted wings and giant rings
Make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened,
Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon,
He ceased his fearless roar.
His head now bent in sorrow,
Green scales fell like rain,
And Puff no longer went to play
Along that cheery lane.
Without his life-long friend,
He could not be brave….
So Puff that mighty dragon
Sadly slipped into his cave.
I think that’s a beautiful song, but the emotion it conveys is just a partial reality.
In reality, “empty nest syndrome” is a normative developmental milestone and rarely turns into a pathological syndrome. As I felt myself, it turns out the research finds the term “empty nest syndrome” is demeaning, and belittles the emotional capacity and maturity of adult women.
On a positive note, research paints a more positive picture of this life transition. The majority of mothers experience a normal sadness but have the positive effects of multiple role strain relief and feelings of greater equity in their marriage relationship.
And both parents experience a relaxing of the authoritarian relationship with their adult children, opening up to a different way of being with their adult children.
A normative developmental shift is the familiar feeling of motherhood being, again, a time of recognizing and realizing growth. A shifting psychological and emotional landscape.
Dolly and I are ok.
Bouchard, G. (2013). How do parents react when their children leave home? Journal of Adult Development, 10(7). Online.
Raup, J. L. & Myers, J. (1989). The empty nest syndrome: Myth or reality? The Journal of Counseling & Development, 68(2), 180-184.