The okapi flies the empty nest

Young person with backpack from behind. Words: When it's time to leave home. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt


The nest is emptying – and I don’t want it to and I do.

The last child, Daughter R, will be back Sunday, but she’s leaving – for good – and I’m weepy.

Two states and a four hours long car trip will separate us.

She moves from the friends she’s created here to the ones near her college in Troy, NY.

She’ll be fine – but I will miss the heck out of her, even as I know she has to do this, and she’s happy.

Her room is a mess, my assistant is probably not going to be available to help, chinchilla Gizzy’s room is still full – drawers and closet and shelves.

There is still plenty of her STUFF – garage, basement, two bedrooms, even kitchen – but the decision on both sides is that it will all be gone soon.

Home will be no more

So we can sell this house we’ve been in since 1981 – and move on ourselves.

She won’t live in this house any more – and I, who can’t even get around in it or the garden any more – can’t stand the idea.

So much unfinished stuff when the last child leaves:

and a whole life.

Her two older brothers have long taken their belongings with them – there are few reminders of their house-filling stuff.

Only a trace remains of the homeschooling years when I gave them all what CFS had left me.

Today was the day she chose; she’s sticking to it

She is better (except she has a cold today) than she’s been in a long while. She packed most of her stuff – except for the desk – herself into the car. MY car. We haven’t worked out that part yet.

She is going to a house with kittens – and will have to worry about allergies and breathing and sleeping.

She is a grownup.

I don’t know what I am any more, and it scares me some. For the longest time I’ve been her accomplice and helper for the sleep stuff – and now that’s her problem and not mine.

I don’t think she’s finished – no one really ever is, but there is so much she never found time to listen to that I could have taught her.

In many things, she has far surpassed anything I have done.

‘Home as prison.’

She’s been in a prison, benevolent, but still caged. I didn’t want to go home when I was her, but I was the oldest, and Mother was very busy with the rest. I didn’t want to be depended on to help her.

Gizzy is mine every night now – after all the help R gave me these past two years and more – and we never got a video of Gizzy following R’s instructions. Put it on list – she’ll be back Sunday. For another load. She has too much stuff.

I’ve been here, conscious of her, since she came home two years ago, defeated by the unknown sleep problem – and she goes now to where she should have been then. I don’t know if we COULD have solved it earlier – maybe a bit, but not significantly.

We did everything we were supposed to do, regular sleep doctors, psychiatrists, therapists – and it didn’t work.

I’ve written about what it took to find out what was wrong

Because it was never those things: it was a rare disease (Non-24 Sleep/Wake Disorder, one of the circadian rhythm disorders like shift work disorder but not quite), and not a mental problem or a lack of motivation.

Dealing with Non-24 SWD

She knows how to reset now, supposedly, and what to do, most of the time.

On vacation she was up – unheard of – before 10AM every day, earlier other days. Lots of exercise, lots of sun – and usually falling asleep before midnight.

She needs ten hours sleep – the far range of ‘normal’; her rotating sleep/wake schedule is more stable; but unlike most humans, she will have to monitor it and defeat it every day.

With a beta blocker which turns off melatonin production during the day, and a dose of melatonin at night to get it started up again. A small dose which should be taken four hours before bedtime.

But sometimes isn’t, for a very responsible reason: she doesn’t want to be in the position of driving after taking it.

Now she has to manage it without backup from parents – but depending on friends, which isn’t a bad way to go when you have no girl-siblings and a lot of girl-friends.

I have had a child in the house for thirty+ years. Now what do I do?

I want to be her. Free. Starting life. With no responsibilities for others yet.

I want to be free to be me now.

Having your whole life ahead of you is scary, even with backup – losing your children is hard.

What we have children for

I’m not losing her, and I’m not ‘letting her go.’

We’re completing a process I undertook the minute she was conceived: getting her ready to be an independent adult.

I KNEW my kids would be scattered by being what they are, following jobs, school, families of their own – I was right: San Francisco, Houston, and now Troy.

The ride has been magnificent.

I am unbearably proud of her: she toughed it out, kept trying even as it affected everything she attempted to do. She never turned to the traps that catch so many of our young. She kept up with her friends and her family and her dreams as much as she could, and now goes to realize them.

She will be fine.

I will miss having her here every day again – but only because she will always be my little girl.

We will survive – and I will get back to the writing.

And the rest of MY life, the lurking scary thought.

If you have kids, are you prepared to let them go?

13 thoughts on “The okapi flies the empty nest

  1. Alice Audrey

    I am so totally in step with you on this. My youngest moved out a couple of months ago. I count myself lucky that I still get to see her most days. I wrings my heart when she tells me of the problems she’s having with her room mate, but it’s not my place to step in. She’s a big girl now. As to the eldest – I sent him a text message today asking if he was still alive. His text back was laughter.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Kids. You can’t wait for them to leave when they’re trying out their independence by pushing back – at you. And you miss them like crazy when they go, and don’t communicate.

      But I think they use us up and wear us out. Even if it’s good for us. I’m also sure we didn’t do nearly as much to our parents, but who knows?


  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    We’re completing a process I undertook the minute she was conceived: getting her ready to be an independent adult.

    Yes. But…aaah! I am so not ready for mine to leave the nest. Glad I have another 4 years before they head off to college.

    Congrats to you and to R for jobs – parenting and growing up – well done!!


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I thought I was done when she went off to college, too – it would have been better for her to finish, and go on to a job.

      It has made her stronger, somewhere, to do battle – but it cost her time and confidence when all her friends seemed to do it so easily.

      She’s home – there are more loads to gather – but she’s got a horrible cold, and mommy went out to get her meds, and a prescription, and some boxes of the tissues with cream in them – which I won’t be able to do once she’s finally done triage on all the stuff and gone up there for good.

      You try to compensate a bit for the things that hit them, but you can’t do that forever for them. It is very hard on the parents. I know I was half-baked when I left – so I know she is still a bit raw, too.

      And she’s moving one state north, not to Alaska, so I should count myself lucky.

      Maybe older parents have it hit harder? Maybe previous generations saw the kids leave for good only when they got married? I dunno. I just write these things down as they hit me.


  3. Widdershins

    Life will certainly feel strange for a while.

    It’s one of those inescapable facts, that parents end up with the unwanted, inconvenient, or ‘can’t take with me’ animals when the kids leave home. I’ve been on both sides of that fence. 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The chinchilla wasn’t hers – it came from middle son’s previous girlfriend (long story) – but she has been very helpful with its care.

      Life will indeed feel strange – it already does, even though she had spent many days away while she was living here. Not having her here isn’t the weird part – it’s knowing that she came home when she needed us. And we managed to help. And she now needs to go.

      It was easier when she left for college – and we expected her not to need to come home for any extended time after that, and certainly not with something that involved her parents so strongly. Ripping the bandaid off the same spot twice hurts more.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jennifer

    My only child (now 35) left home 15 years ago. Our small home suddenly seemed much bigger! He’s married now and while I love and admire the adult, I miss my little boy.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      We have 5 half-stories, what’s called a split-level house. I use two of the stories most of the time – bedrooms and kitchen/living room level. Occasionally I have to go up or down, but it is way too much house for us, and we don’t think we’ll have many houseguests, with me ill.

      It would be nice to have the house so she can come home a couple of times a year, but it consumes time and money. Since I want California, and she’s in New York, it will be tough – and I will have to insist on more Skype calls with video.

      And continue our new family-vacation tradition, or she may never see her brothers.

      Change is hard for me; staying has become harder. I hope to improve with a gym and pool and medical facilities on the premises of a retirement community, best in the same building, so that’s what we’re looking for. It will be our base of operations, and we’ll travel from there with less effort than what it just took us (no grass, no security, no responsibilities for outside upkeep). I hope.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Learn to text to her – that’s all I can say. Send her little bits often – she’ll reply when she can.

      I let this one go when she went off to college, but the sleep problem was only identified this year, as her father and I did the research and found the doctors in Philadelphia.

      I found myself explaining things to the chinchilla tonight as she held my finger with her paw. She likes daughter better than me, but she’s my responsibility – R can’t have her in a house with cats. And doesn’t want her – a pet is a big responsibility.

      Glad your daughter called.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          She’s nineteen. She needs to separate from mom and dad – just at the time mom and dad are missing her so much. Sigh.

          My mother said my grandfather said, “They’re so much help when they grow up.” But that was in the days when an unmarried woman lived in her parents’ house until she married.

          Now they have to go face the world, and they don’t want to have to come back to us.

          It’s very hard on the parents. But maybe we can look at it as having turned them into independent humans, the way we always planned.

          Still hard.

          Liked by 1 person

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