Weeds: The nest gets a little emptier

The ’96 Sable was packed full, all Abby’s stuff that fit, including her pet hedgehog. Our daughter graduated from the University of Minnesota in December. Now she was moving to Seattle, preparing to drive the 1,613 miles there (according to Mapquest).

The moment came for leave-taking. Abby’s mom cried as she hugged her middle child. Abby’s dad hadn’t thought of crying. His head was filled with thoughts about the vehicle, road conditions, and weather reports.

Abby was excited for the adventure ahead and we were excited for her. But there was a happy-sadness. There are days in parenting when something is ending and something else is beginning: the first day of school, graduation, leaving for college. Mom and dad see the ending more; child sees the beginning. Abby was looking west to Seattle; we saw the box of her old toys in the basement.

I could appreciate my wife’s tears. After all, a mother spends a lot of her life creating a “home.” It begins with a building, a house. Then a thousand little touches make it a place that is comforting, safe, and sustaining. Each child that comes into that place gives it a new definition; each child adds to the home. Now, Abby’s departure meant subtracting.

This was the end of one way for our family to be; we will be a different family now. Since going to college, Abby actually hasn’t been around here a lot. She enjoyed being in the Cities and spent time in Spain and Mexico. Still, through three and half years in dorms and apartments, home was here. Now Abby is a young adult, and home will be somewhere else.

Parents know, of course, this is the order of things. We understand that small baby snugged in a big car seat coming home from the hospital will grow up and leave. We know that in our heads, but we don’t know how it feels till the moment comes. It’s the right order of things, and that is a blessing in itself. I lost a brother who was 16 when he died. Being able to send a child off is not to be taken for granted.

Other daughter Anna went along to aid in driving. It was Thursday morning that they drove out our driveway and turned left. By Saturday afternoon, they were in Seattle. Through the magic of cell phones, we were able to take part in the grand journey.

I followed along state by state in my State Farm Road Atlas. I kept pointing out fascinating things they were driving past. “The headwater of the Missouri is just north of I-90!” The family joke was that if I were along, it would have taken two months instead of two days. Admittedly, I can’t drive past anything that’s interesting without stopping. And since all creation is interesting, we never got anywhere fast on family vacations.

We had Abby here for a few weeks around Christmas. We got to see what our relationship with this newly minted adult was like. She was rather pleasant to be around. She even sought our advice on a few things. Those challenging teen years are in the past now. Then we offered advice all the time, but it was not always appreciated.

If you are a parent of a certain age, you know a day like this comes, a launching day. Maybe it’s not as dramatic as driving off over the horizon. Maybe it’s a wedding day, or the first day on a new job. You’re proud of them, you feel their anticipation. But there is that happy-sadness inside.

Your role changes, too. All the picking up after her, all the hauling around, all the meals, all the sitting with her when she was ill, all the day-to-day-to-day work of parenting is done. There still might be financial help, but that’s more of gift now. It was simply your responsibility when they were growing up.

When I talk to older parents, one thing that doesn’t change is prayer. Does Abby “need” my prayers? Do I have to remind God to bless her and keep her? Hardly. Is it good to keep something going that flows from me through the Creator to my daughter? I think so. I know my mom kept her rosary close and offered up many decades for her children as they left the home, took jobs, and got married.

I thought of that when I was at church a few hours after Abby and Anna got to Seattle. I watched as a little girl climbed up onto her dad’s lap a couple pews over. Then the girl leaned against his chest, wanting just to be close to her father. That was Abby on my lap just a few years ago. It was a few years to me. It was a lifetime for Abby.

So, Abby is a Seattleite for now. She talks about working in Europe someday. It is unlikely she’ll ever be living back in little Sleepy Eye again. Although one never knows any of this for sure; my nephew Kelly just moved back to town after seven years living in Las Vegas. Life doesn’t always take straight paths.

Abby posted this on her Facebook page the day she left. “Moving day! Minnesota, it’s not you, it’s me. And your darn weather! It’s time I give Seattle a try. To all my family and friends, I love you, I’ll miss you, and I’ll do my best to make you proud.”

The little girl on my lap at church is all grown up. She is the world’s now. Or maybe more accurately, the world is her’s now. She’s got to see what’s over the rainbow.

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