Leaving the Nest

first day 14I knew it was ridiculous, the way I was carrying on. But I couldn’t help it. Hormones and life’s circumstances had rendered me a useless lump of emotions. For some reason, on this particular Wednesday morning, my central nervous system decided it was time to focus — really fixate — on my oldest son’s high school graduation, how it was a few weeks away and life as we know it will never be the same.

It all started with a pile of papers. The day before, everyone brought home report cards, the last ones before the end of the year. There were three weeks left of school and we were getting to the finish line.

In these report cards were the registration forms for the following year including one for (hold your hats!) dear, sweet Isabel, who will be starting kindergarten in the fall.

But there was one missing, one less form. And that’s when it hit me, the thing I’ve known forever but didn’t fully embrace until that moment in the kitchen on a Wednesday morning in May — there was no registration form for Ethan. He wouldn’t be at the school next year. This was it.

Of course I already knew that. I’ve known it all year. And a few weeks ago we heard exactly where he would be next year and it’s wonderful. He got into the school of his dreams and it’s exciting and wonderful and we are all thrilled. So that’s where our boy will be in the Fall, up at Georgia Tech getting started on his college career.

How could it be then, in light of all our celebrating Ethan’s plans for the future, that I’d be hit so hard by the reality of him not being here. He’ll be there — you already know that — but it was like the item in Column A (away at college) never got in touch with Column B (not here). And oh how it hit me.

Not here. Not at this school. I already knew he wouldn’t be in our home, at least not for weeks at a time. And I thought I was okay with that. It’s exciting! It’s wonderful! They can’t stay little forever!

But as I filled out those forms for each of my other children, the ones who’ll be at our K-12 school next year, my heart hurt. So very much.

And then, the tears started. They came and stayed and they were very ugly indeed. It was a deep sorrow that I didn’t expect and didn’t see coming. I knew it had to be there somewhere but not like this. The sadness of it all, the reality that life cannot stay the same forever and change hurts and I don’t like it, not one single bit.

Those thoughts were the lowest points, thank the Lord. Admitting that all of this was hard. And then, after a while (a little longer than I’d like but what can you do) I got my wits about me. I sniffled one last time, and took a deep breath and realized this: change is scary. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

It will indeed be strange without Ethan here next year, here in our home, here at our school. It will be different. When everyone loads up in the morning to head out to school next year, it won’t be Ethan driving his four younger brothers in our 12-passenger van. It won’t be Ethan leading music at assembly or sitting in the classrooms or passing his brothers in the halls.

But. BUT! Before I get too carried away, I tell myself this: this is what we’ve been working for. It’s hard, it stinks. It’s wonderful and beautiful. This little boy who you taught to tie his shoes and ride his bike and put away his laundry — all of that was for this, these beautiful scary moments when he will leave the nest and wobble off and yes! come back home too to visit and stay and share with the rest of the family everything he’s learning as his world expands and grows and he becomes more of the man God created him to be.

This time of change is scary because it’s unknown. And I know it’s okay to mourn the loss of one season. But at the same time I always want to remember that our God is a God of peace and joy and I want to look ahead to the new seasons with a feeling of excitement and adventure. What does the future hold for our boy? We cannot wait to find out.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.


  1. So sweet, so true!

  2. He’ll do you proud. The first of many!

  3. Helen Cox says

    Oh, I so remember! My 5 children are grown, with families of their own. We’ve raised our grandson from birth, and he’ll be 13 next month. I don’t expect the heartache to be any different when he leaves than when his aunts and uncles left. It’s almost like a right of passage for mothers.

  4. Thank you for keeping it real here. My first is leaving the nest in the Fall as well and it does hurt. A lot. Her father and I are excited for her yet on the inside we are a mess, truth be known! God has ordained this whole thing and that is what brings me peace to calm the storm inside.

  5. There will be joy too. I promise. My oldest just graduated from college, next is set to graduate and commission in the USA MY in two years and I launch another this fall. It is a jolting transition but watching them grow from teens to adulTs, making hard decisions and sometimes the right ones 🙂 is pretty awesome. You really start seeing the fruits of your hard work. Wait until he is on another continent….then you really learn to let go and trust, you have to or lose your mind.

  6. Cathy Donahue says

    I was at a work session preparing gift bags for the graduation lock in the other day. One mom was relating how she was barely able to stay composed through the baccalaureate mass when she noticed I was crying….and then someone saw her and lost it…I didn’t realized I caused an avalanche! But it wasn’t me. I was able to hold it together until I saw Alex M’s mom crying! Our Catholic high school always ends baccalaureate mass with Matt Maher’s “Hold Us Together”, which doesn’t help at all. And my kid who is graduating will be living at home and attending college. I’m not even going to lose him and I’m all emotional. Prayers for the class of 2015!!!

  7. I feel your pain, I really do! Our oldest son left for college in 2002–I remember those tears very well, and that terrible ache. Then one by one, they all left. And last weekend, son #5, our baby, graduated from Notre Dame. That whole era of raising our boys and getting them prepared to go out in the world is now well and truly over. For a person who hates change as much as I do, it’s really hard to accept.

    However…there is a wonderful consolation prize. And it’s called grandchildren!!! That son who left in 2oo2? He and his wife just welcomed a fourth daughter. Thank God for grandchildren. 🙂

  8. My oldest son graduated from high school last year and went away to college. I thought we were handling it fairly well, but when we dropped him off at school and drove away, my husband had to pull the car over about two miles out because we were both weeping too ferociously to drive. But I can tell you there is a special joy that comes with welcoming the prodigal son when he comes for a weekend or now for the summer. No, he hasn’t squandered his inheritance on wine and fast women, but there is still great rejoicing when he comes home . I completely get the “one is missing” thing. We still don’t totally feel like us when he’s not here.

  9. Oh how you always pull at my heartstrings!! Beautiful post! And yay for Georgia Tech! I married a rambling’ wreck, and can’t imagine God providing a better Catholic husband and father of my children!

  10. Michelle Ross says

    My dear mother-in-law told me that “the first one going breaks the family.” At first I thought that was horribly, horribly sad, but then the Lord showed me a different view. Now I think of it as a puzzle piece that leaves my puzzle to start a new puzzle, but still fits in ours and always will. My oldest is only a junior this fall, so please remind me of this in 2017!


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