Whoa Nellie. What a ride it is when your kids leave home.

You do the life. You CREATED all these roommates. You picked this. It’s been your love, your joy, your choice. You had systems. You made this life. You do it for several decades, and you relish it, are grateful for it, are knee-deep in it, hate it, love it, fund it, berate it, have your heart turned inside-out over it, can’t imagine any life that isn’t… this…

And then. It changes.

And you cannot believe you are sitting there, naked on the couch alone with your husband, eating nachos with extra olives (because no one but you two ever wanted extra olives) watching Shawshank Redemption for the 14th time. It’s glorious and decadent and sinful. And you look at each other, and you’re both thinking the same thing and you don’t speak.

It’s one of those earned marriage moments when there are no words, but much understanding. It’s gleeful. It’s giddy. But it’s scary too. Even painful. You’re wondering what are they doing? Are they ok? It’s lonely, it’s quiet, it’s vacant-feeling. Can they do it? Can WE do it? Have we given them all they need to pull this off?

But… people, let’s be real. It’s freakin’ awesome, too, yes. Naked Shawshank nachos?? Yessss.

Ok let’s lay this out. One of ours moved out right after graduation. That was unexpected, but he’s still there. He is making his run on life from there and faring well. So we had two left. They were going to go to Southern California together – sibling roommates! Very cool. (And truth be told, a salve for us.)

The run-up to their move-out was stressful (for us) and called up a grand fear of the unknown. Our nature was to handle it—do the research, make the calls, make the reservations, post the deposits-- but we were informed not to. “We’ve got this, mom,” we heard. It IS in fact important that they do this on their own, on their terms, we said to ourselves, but you cannot stop being mom. It’s exceedingly hard to not ‘be mom.’

It was a ride, getting to that point. The place where you’re actually talking addresses and rents and deposits, and then booking a U-Haul, and them doing long-distance job hunts and and and. Then it’s boxes and packing and “You wanna take some of the mixing bowls and what about …?” You have secret joy buying supplies that you plan to hide in their boxes to find when they unpack…stuff they don’t have money for, and stuff that will make them smile for home, to discover once we were on our way back to Patterson. It was secretly so fun to do.

And then it’s time. The U-Haul is loaded to go. We all drove away from home to deliver them to their adventure, on to the next chapter! The undeniable change that is right-now occurring is compelling. So you make the drive and you do the move-in, in the heat. Errands, a last minute fridge purchase, a lamp. But now, oh man, now it’s time to leave them and drive away. Time to leave two of your kids in a faraway place in a box-filled apartment, with Thai food leftovers in the fridge that make you feel better about the driving away because they’ll have a meal tomorrow.

Hugs, obligatory parent advice about checking the oil in the car and finding a local dentist. Realizations that they probably… just want us gone already. We get into the U-Haul, put it in drive, wave like crazy people and blow kisses and… drive. And only then, do the tears begin. Pride. Joy. Hope. Fear. Memories of our own leaving-home scenes. Silence.

You don’t talk for a while. Both playing through the emotions. An hour in, one of you pops off with something like “WTH just happened??” and that opens the floodgates never even cautiously opened until right now.

And it begins to become real. Our kids are all out on their own. This is what we’re supposed to do: we prepare them to go, but it feels so empty and …so lonely, for us. Like a chapter is over. Like a great book has been finished but you want it to go on. Like all we’ve been doing for all these years is done and over and… now what?

These are strong and capable and impressive young adults. Deep breath. You squeeze each other’s hands and drive on home. When you get home, it’s quiet and eerie and kind of hollow-feeling. You call, they are well, they are better than “well;” they are happy and good. You feel contentment and gratitude.

And you welcome this new chapter when John says, “How about nachos with extra olives and we find a movie we love and we watch it NAKED?”

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