Happy Tears, Selfish Tears

Two weeks ago, my husband and I sent my youngest child off to college.

I have heard stories throughout the years of the enormity of this event, but it was not until my son slowly faded away amongst the flocks of people at the security checkpoint that it finally hit me. My time as a day-to-day, hands on mother was over.

When we got back into the car, I wept. “Are those happy tears or sad tears?” my husband asked. “Selfish tears,” I sobbed back. Yes, selfish tears, I told myself—but why?

Happy tears

Before I continue about my “selfish tears,” let me talk about my “happy tears.” My youngest has known since middle school that his passion lies in developing video games. It took him awhile to hit his stride and hunker down with all the academics involved in such a career, but once he did, he soared like an eagle.

Last Spring, he was accepted into his first-choice school—a private college that specializes in game development and computer science. No one was happier for him than me. I will always remember the look of astonishment and joy on his face when the email came in and yelled out through the house, “I got in!” I dropped what I was doing to run to him and hug him. As a mom there is no better happiness than seeing your children succeed, so my heart was full…and my tears were happy. Incredibly happy. We spent the next few months finishing all the high school stuff and preparing for Fall. I relished every moment, knowing that the time to let go was coming all too fast. Then, two weeks ago, the time came.

Selfish tears

I spent the next several days after my son left trying to figure out why I was such an emotional mess. How could I feel so happy and yet so sad all at the same time? Hence the aforementioned “selfish tears.” The answer finally came.

Because I am a mother.

Mothers are unstoppable forces of nature. We love our children fiercely and unconditionally, while simultaneously being able to put them in their place and dish out tough love. We are forever the soft place for our children to fall and the voice of reason in a cruel world. We are masters at managing chaos and soothing both “boo-boos” and heartbreaks. Having a loving mother is a great gift, and the ability to be a mother is a blessing.

For 28 years, I have been a mother.

28 years of:

Babies, bottles, diapers, sleepless nights, doctor visits, broken bones, school supplies, homeschooling, parent conferences, report cards, after-school activities, band practice, large grocery trips, helping them move apartments, making breakfast, lunch and dinner…every day, washing laundry, clothes shopping, staying up until they get home, mentoring, advising, butting in, arguing, grounding, debating, watching them succeed, watching them fail, being their biggest cheerleader, driving them to school, picking them up from school, drying their tears, holding their hands to cross the street, holding them when they are sick, sad or confused, signing permission slips, worrying, crying, laughing…the list could go on forever.

In other words, my very existence has been my children. And now my “nest” is empty.

Don’t get me wrong—my life is far from over. I have many hobbies that I can now pursue full time and I can focus on helping my husband and I become healthier. I can stay up late and sleep in if I want. We can go on adventures without it needing to be on a school break. I can volunteer, I can read, I can write, I can knit all day—I am excited about what this next stage of life will bring. That said…

I have selfish tears because:

I will miss giving my son a hug before school every morning.

I will miss hearing him yell out, “I’m home” every afternoon and then hearing about his day.

I will miss wishing him goodnight before I go to bed.

I will miss binge watching Top Gear with him.

I will miss going to the bookstore with him and getting donuts afterwards.

I will miss…him

Yes, he will be back, but as all experienced empty nesters know…it will be different. He will no longer be a young man. He will be a man. And just like his brother and sister before him, he will be different. And ya know what?

That’s the way it’s supposed to be. It is the number one parenting goal: that they grow up, leave the nest, and become happy, healthy, successful human beings who navigate life and society with civility and grace. I give myself this reminder daily.

So while I may still cry a few selfish tears from no longer being that hands on, day-to day mom, I sit here today knowing those tears will soon fade. I will adjust to this new stage of life knowing that my children are happy, healthy, successful and “living life to the fullest, one day at a time.”