When my only daughter was set to go to college, I was ready for the emotional punch in the gut.
The empty nest concept scared me; were we ready for a home that no longer has the vibrancy of her teenage tribe coming and going? Would the silence in her empty room boom loudly with loneliness? (Albeit a much cleaner room, if there is any solace in that, but still…)
Initiated members of this club we were reluctantly set to join advised my husband and me to travel after the college drop-off. We both agreed that the idea of a get-away-after-she-goes-away was a good one.
We made a plan to drop our daughter off at her new home, a small liberal arts school on the east coast, and then road trip throughout New England. The nest isn’t empty if you don’t come home, right?
Just like a person on a diet sees food everywhere, I saw moms with young kids all around me.
I decided to get a haircut during our vacation, reasoning that some form of newness could make me feel better. I was coping through the elimination of split ends.
My hair stylist was a pretty young woman with perfect skin and shiny brunette hair. She had tired eyes, and – you guessed it— she was a mom of young kids. As I sat in her chair and faced the large mirror, she started to brush out my shampooed hair.
“Are you on vacation?” she asked as she studied my hair length and style.
“I just dropped off my daughter at college, and now my husband and I are on a little post drop-off trip,” I explained.
She spilled her heart about her kids—two high-energy boys, ages two and four. She called them the “little crazies.” I could see the pride on her face as she talked about them, and also exhaustion. She was on a never-ending treadmill because the minute she got home from work they were on top of her, full force, in rough and tumble destruction mode.
“I walk in the door,” she explained, “and they jump all over me, saying ‘Play with me – play with me!’ I can’t even go to the bathroom without them pounding on the door and pestering me to hurry up,” she said with a combination of exasperation and adoration.
I remembered when my friends and I were in the throes of young mom-ness, the I-just-want-to-pee-in-peace period. What happened? It seemed like yesterday, evaluating car seats, strollers, parks, and preschools. Blink, my one and only child was off to college.
She began trimming, and I thought about my daughter’s “princess period” when she was between the ages of my stylist’s sons. My little girl loved to dress up in make-believe clothes. She had a plastic bucket full of fairytale dresses with puffy sleeves and tulle skirts with metallic fabrics. There were cheap, blonde, Cinderella-like wigs, strings of plastic beads, gloves, tiaras, veils, and sparkly shoes.
I wondered—how princess-y was this going to get? Why did she always want to play “wedding”…is that even a game? Maybe I should have encouraged her to play “neurosurgeon” or “rocket scientist” instead. She wanted to wear her Zsa Zsa attire everywhere, exposing me to the imagined judgment of the grocery store shoppers. What if they pegged me as one of those pageant moms, dolling up my little girl to look like a three-year-old going on twenty-five?
As I think of it now, my worries were pointless. This was just a snapshot—an adorable little blip on the radar screen, and then…it was over. My little dress up queen was just her version of three—a silly little girl that wanted to pretend and play, and get fake married over and over. It seemed it would be like that forever. It was just a fraction of the overall trajectory towards growing up, and the only remnants that remain now are memories and photographs.
As I listened to my stylist’s stories of her boys, it seemed impossible to believe my little dress-up queen was a college freshman sporting Birkenstocks and a pierced nose.
I realized then that it was time to say goodbye to a significant part of myself. If good grief is a thing, (good grief!) this was it. It was grief, just the same.
“Do you like the length?” my stylist asked.
“Nice and fresh, thanks.”
The blow dryer roared as she styled my hair. I envied her for being at the start of her journey. She had so much time ahead with her overwhelming boys. (I consoled myself by appreciating that I could easily get a spontaneous massage and haircut without guilt or scheduling issues.)
Now that I was on the flip side, I considered that someday my stylist would also marvel at a series of flashing phases that quickly progress to adulthood. I imagined her older self, cutting hair and listening supportively to a younger mom’s stories of crazy-energy-robbing children. In time, she will be the one looking back in astonishment at how fast it all went by with her “little crazies.”
Cherish them. Blink. They grow up.