Suburban Turmoil: A new era at home

Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 12:00am

It’s probably best if you just steer clear of my husband and me this week.

Today, our 18-year-old heads off to college. Tomorrow, our 5-year-old starts kindergarten.

And the casualties from these momentous events are strewn across the battlefield we call home.

My husband is taking our eldest’s departure the hardest. For the last few weeks, he’s been moping around the house, mourning the fact that it is at last time for his firstborn to leave the nest. I imagine he’s feeling much like I felt not long ago, when it occurred to me that my childbearing days were over.


“I can’t believe she’s leaving,” he said at dinner last night, glumly pushing around the salad on his plate with a fork.

“It’s worse for me,” our 16-year-old replied from across the table.

“It’s not worse for you,” my husband objected.

“Yes it is,” I said, looking at our 16-year-old sympathetically. “The girls are best friends, Hubs. They do everything together.”

My husband scowled, and we all lapsed into morose silence.

I’m having an easier time coming to terms with the fact that our 18-year-old is leaving home; she’s been nice enough to help me deal by insisting for the last 10 months that she’s an adult and should be treated accordingly (which, to an 18-year-old, means no curfew, no responsibilities and unlimited funding from the ‘rents). What’s more, I know there’s a good chance that college will provide her with four of the best years of her life. I can’t help but get excited for her about that.

I look at my stepdaughter and see myself at that age, alternately eager and terrified at the prospect of striking out on her own, full of bravado by day and, I’m guessing, at least a few tears by night, convinced she is destined to become the next Tina Fey/ Kate Winslet/ Amy Sedaris, but having no idea of how to get there.

She’s ready. She’s not ready.

It’s time.

But while I’m trying to be philosophical about my eldest flying the coop, when it comes to my 5-year-old, I’m an emotional wreck. We’re talking, after all, about the child who adores me with a passion generally reserved for God and the perfect cheeseburger, the child who tells everyone that Mommy knows everything and Mommy is always right, the child who looks so much like me, she might as well be my clone.

While my 18-year-old all but disappeared from our lives the day she was given the keys to her car, my 5-year-old has stuck to me like glue since she was born. More than a few times, I’ve called her name, only to look down and realize she’s been standing quietly by my side all along. The thought of being without her for seven hours a day, every day, feels a little bit like finding out my arm is about to be amputated.

Hubs tries to console me. “She’ll be fine,” he tells me. “She’ll love it.”

I can only nod and whimper in response.

As much as I’d love to keep Punky at home with me, I have to admit that lately, she seems to need a little more than I have to offer. She’s been demanding constant playdates. Excursions. Social opportunities. Kindergarten is the obvious solution, despite the fact that whenever I mention it, she hides her face and says quietly that she’d rather stay with me.

She’s ready. She’s not ready.

It’s time.

I look at my girls now and think back on all the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes I watched with my oldest. I remember an entire week we spent once during Christmas break doing nothing but playing with Barbie dolls. A few years later, I spent hours and hours of my life rocking an infant Punky to sleep. I must have sung Amazing Grace to her a thousand times. Back then, those moments seemed like they’d last forever.

And now, suddenly, they’re gone, and both my girls are about to begin creating new memories that won’t include me. And I’m left thinking, “Why did I have children again?” No one sufficiently explained to me how much this parenting thing would hurt.

But don’t start sending me e-mails with the five signs of depression just yet. Because I have to be honest: There’s a small part of me that’s excited about having my 2-year-old’s daily naptime to myself again. And with just one teenager left in the house, there certainly will be far less day-to-day drama. I’m actually looking forward to working on all the things that have been put on the backburner these last five years. Seriously. These are tears of happiness. I swear.

Believe me, I’m ready.

I’m not ready.

It’s time.

Read more of Lindsay’s columns at

22 Comments on this post:

By: LegallyBlonde on 8/13/09 at 9:49

wow, I remember my mom helping me find my first apt , decorate my apt, and crying when she had to leave to drive back home :(
- I'm sure she cried when I went to Kindergarten too

By: ThisHeavenlyLife on 8/13/09 at 10:55

I wasn't ready to read this today! I just wrote a post about the careless passage of time and it's still haunting my thoughts. So this? Puh. Took me right over the edge. Good luck, sister. Good luck.


By: mandyhornbuckle on 8/13/09 at 11:53

Jeez Lindsay. I don't even have kids and I'm all teary for you. Very well-written piece.

And if it helps any, by the time your second goes to college, evidently you won't care at all. You may even go on a cruise the week they move in because you realize they'll come back a lot so it's not really that traumatic for you. Just sayin'.

By: rachael1013 on 8/13/09 at 12:19

Oh my gosh, I think I might hyperventilate. My son is 3, and he has a couple years before school, and many more before college. I just can't believe such heartache will come. I see parenting as a series of moments of pride and heartbreak, they go hand in hand and one won't come without the other. I think it's a wonderful testament to you as a mother the way you feel.

By: aflammang on 8/13/09 at 6:16

Oh, Lindsay. I wish we lived closer so that we could drown our sorrows together. In coffee, at least, but preferably something stronger. I JUST finished a post today that will go up tomorrow about my boys, and some of the changes we've been going through since recently. Kindergarten is going swimmingly so far for my oldest son. But last week, the same week he started Kindergarten, my 8 month old started pulling up on everything and trying to wean himself. I'm just a mess! I feel like they are changing in front of my very eyes. Exciting. Bittersweet.
I dropped my son off in front of his school this morning and watched him as long as I could, with his backpack strapped on, weaving in and out of big kids on the sidewalk. Then as I was driving away I glanced up for one more look in the rearview mirror, as he walked further away, and something about seeing him from that viewpoint just slayed me. I cried all the way to the coffee shop. It is so hard. But when I pick him up and he tells me what he's done or sings me a song he's learned, it's really awesome.
stop by tomorrow if you have time:
Hang in there!
Lucy Cooper (Audra), Arkansas

By: thegrownupchild on 8/13/09 at 6:52

Oh the things to look forward to as a mom! My oldest started kindergarten last year and I swore to myself I wouldn't cry that first day watching him get on the school bus....I bawled like a baby! At least I waited until they pulled away though!

Then I followed the bus and watched him get in line with his class. The water works started all over again. And yet, I was incredibly proud of him meeting this milestone at the same time. It's strange how we can feel so many things all at the same time. I can't imagine what a mess I'll be when he starts College!

I think these transitions are the hardest. When the proof that they are growing up on us becomes undeniable. Warm thoughts are with you this week!


By: Melisa with one S on 8/13/09 at 7:22

Oh gosh, I'm just about there. My older son is 17 and starting his Senior year in H.S. this year. He still enjoys being around us, so I think the transition will be sorta painful next year.

For now, I shall continue to live in denial.

By: comagirl on 8/13/09 at 7:30

I felt the same way when my oldest step-son left for college. I was sad and happy.

Then 3 weeks later he called and asked to come home. I was sad. No happy.

By: rubberbacon on 8/13/09 at 7:42

Beautiful post!

By: Carenann on 8/13/09 at 7:47

Beautiful Lindsay! I know half of what you're feeling, The Son starts Kindergarten in a few weeks and while it's only half day, I know having him gone every day is going to be a shock to my system. He's excited and nervous and I know he's going to love it still... it's so bittersweet. Good luck to you and yours with all your changes.


By: purejoy on 8/13/09 at 8:35

wow that is me in a nutshell. except for the kids still at home. i am 46 and i'm a parenting has-been.
my daughter left for alabama (a crime if you're from tennessee, but we won't go there) on saturday, and we were systematically shooed out of her apartment/dorm once she scored big at target and we unloaded her stuff. she wanted to put all of her loot away and continue setting up her new place. can't say i blame her, but i wanted in on that party.
i realized there's this awesome party that bamagirl and all her friends were invited to. i didn't get an invite to the party, and it's not some mistake. i wasn't on the guest list.
and it hurts like heck. and she's so wrapped up in the party, i don't get a retelling of all the details of what went on at the party.
those days are long gone.
what hurts the most is the running off to the party without so much as a backwards glance. so easily dismissed.
one of these days, perhaps, she'll come back.
until then i'm going to be have to be content with the brief text, a quick facebook chat (both initiated by me) and try not to be bitter that i'm sitting at home on a friday nite. and a monday nite. and thursday. yeah. the nest is empty.
time to focus on some momma bird pappa bird time.

By: purejoy on 8/13/09 at 8:36

i would much rather have the dead silence of an ecstatic college freshman than a weepy miserable child any day. i'll take dismissive happy.

By: mysterymommy on 8/13/09 at 9:18

What a beautiful post, Lindsay.


By: marywritersblock on 8/13/09 at 9:22

Well-written, Lindsay.

My husband described it well last year as our first-born went to kindergarten.

No turning back. A real milestone.

It's hard, but it will be wonderful, too.

Mary@The Writer's Block

By: sixbelinskis on 8/14/09 at 6:59

Oh this is hard. I'm so sorry. How does the time go so fast? My eldest is 11 and starting middle school in a little over a week. I feel utterly traumatized by the end of her lementary years. I'm pretty sure I'll need medication when they had off to college.

By: millermix on 8/14/09 at 8:03

I left home at 16 and was very prepared (emotionally and mentally) for college when I began my freshman year at 18.

However, the thought of my children (now 8 and 2) leaving home to pursue their adult lives? Hives! I'm so glad I have at least 10 years to get ready (not ready) for it. My real hope in all of it is that they never feel the need to flee the nest before those 10 years are up.

Y'all have obviously done a great job with your birdies!

Kelly @ The Miller Mix

By: WordGirl on 8/14/09 at 3:14

I'm right there with you. My youngest daughter of three started kindergarten today. While I wasn't sad about it (after all, this is the only year all three of them will be at the same school!), I do think I'll be sad next year when my eldest transitions to middle school. Somehow, that feels like a bigger deal. I've seen my first two survive and thrive in kindergarten and beyond, but middle school? They chew up children and spit them out as adolescents, don't they??

By: MusingsfromMe on 8/14/09 at 11:16

The kindergarten transition is a tough one. I've done it 3 times. The easiest was with my youngest. he was so ready to go. So open to new challenges. I love the silence of the house between 8 and 3. This summer has been my hardest yet...trying to write in between moderating fights and wondering just exactly how much ios too much TV anyway.

By: chainsofyesterday on 8/15/09 at 4:18

It's not the same, but it is - I raised my hubby's sister when she was little, then at 11 her mom took her away to TX, and I only got her in the summers. 2 years ago, she was graduating high school, and decided on a college near "home"... home, being MY house. And I did it - I took my little girl, now all growed up, shopping for her dorm room, registering for classes, and becoming an adult. And it hurt like hell. Wasn't it just yesterday that we were labeling crayons for kindergarten?

But now? I can smile at it. Because while she was making memories without me, she is no longer my sort-of-daughter. She's my friend. She's an almost 20 year old young woman, eager to get out into the world. And knowing I helped make her who she is, watching her shine? Is an amazing feeling that can't be described.

This year marks my son's entry into the local technical high school - the child has decided what he wants to BE when he grows up. Wait... even *I* haven't decided what to be when I grow up.

It's so hard to let them go, even just a little bit. But watching them fly? Makes it worth it.

By: aliciabeth on 8/15/09 at 9:21

Aww, you'll be okay. Everyone will survive. Just focus on the naptime you're getting back. :)

My daughter is starting Kindergarten next Monday. She'll be at the same school as her third-grade brother, so I'm not so worried, but it still makes me sad that she's even READY for this, you know? She even has two loose teeth! How is that possible? She was a colicky newborn like three and a half minutes ago.

By: TakingChargeMom on 8/17/09 at 1:55

As a former kindergarten teacher, I often laughed (inside) at parents on the first day of school. How could grown women and men stand around and cry when their children start kindergarten? After having my first child a few months ago, I have a totally new perspective.

By: hattahall on 8/17/09 at 2:01

They grow up too fast! I'm excited and happy to see them grow but my arms and womb are empty and leaves me feeling just a tad bit sad. Maybe I should have a third just so I can enjoy it a little longer, or maybe the season of little ones in diapers has passed me by. I hate to admit it but I am a little misty eyed.