A few months ago, I wrote with sadness about our baby girl (now 18) leaving home and going away to college (October 2006 Publisher’s Note). With her older brother now living in New Jersey, Laura’s departure meant our nest was now officially a child-free zone&emdash;just Mom and me at home (with Lupine and Sarge, our dog and cat). For weeks after Laura left, I’d often stop when passing by her room to look in, and sometimes sit on her bed to think about her and wonder what she was doing.
For years, I dreaded the day she’d leave, casually dismissing comments by friends and family that the void would not always be so large. But the loss was large. I missed her and her ways&emdash;even the clothes that no longer were strewn about her room. Even my missing shampoo and razor, which I’d notice she’d taken to her shower only after I was already warmly ensconced in our shower. I even missed the surly mood she’d sometimes wear around the house like boxing gloves.
Last Halloween was especially lonely for me, since for many years she’d let me go out with her on that special night. I stayed inside this time, handing out candy without her. In between knocks on the door, an image came to mind of Laura 13 years earlier, a 4-year-old in a princess costume. That was the year I first escorted her and her big brother trick-or-treating around our home in River Park. Not only did she quickly figure out that Halloween was about collecting free candy from neighbors (her sweet tooth was huge, like mine), she excelled at it. A little thing in a shiny pink skirt, cape and crown, she leaped over hedges with her loaded pillowcase to get to the next house. Recalling her now-gone-forever childhood made me sad.
Then things began to change. One morning, as I brought my wife coffee in bed, I realized that the house held a different sort of quiet. Soon I figured out why: No longer was the battle to get our daughter out of bed on school mornings a regular ritual, marked by our shouts echoing down the hall to her bedroom threatening punishment for being tardy to school, her hollered counterclaims telling us to butt out echoing back.
A few days later, I arrived home from work one evening and found my wife relaxed and ready to go grab a bite somewhere. I recalled the years her feelings were sometimes hurt when the kids were less-than-enthusiastic about dinners she worked hard to prepare. Their mumbled It’s OK response when asked if they liked a meal was perceived by her as a D grade. (My praise counted about as much as the dog’s, who never had a bite she didn’t love.) It struck me that evening that her dinner tasks were substantially reduced; the dog and I are pretty easy to please. If she doesn’t want to cook, out we go.
New advantages increasingly became apparent. No longer were the nightly Get your homework done! battles waged. Life without an adolescent resident wasn’t so bad. And our pace of newfound, daughterless activities quickened: We attended more events after work and a few times spontaneously decided to venture away for a night.
Another surprising benefit was the disappearance of negotiating the dreaded evening curfew. Weekend nights with this teen typically meant numerous cell phone conversations about half-baked plans that never came to fruition, after which kids proposed evermore interesting/outlandish/ridiculous schemes, most of which we could not approve. (Sample call, 11 p.m.: Hi Mom. Andrew and Ben and Ali are gonna meet Daniella and Mimi over at The Boardwalk, then they’re driving to a friend’s in West Sac, then we’re all going to Bella Bru where Mathew and Ellie and Greg are, and then we’re going to . . .) Our parental clamor for a safe and realistic plan amid her disdain for such needless bother was nerve-racking. Now that was gone, too, and with it the crappy half-sleep that plagued us until she was home for the night. Out of sight, out of mind has been breathed numerous times in our household since this past August, as Laura lives 120 miles away and seems to be doing fine taking care of herself.
Of course, I still miss Laura. But those friends who said it would get better were right. It has. Absence (and Laura’s approaching adulthood) do make the heart grow fonder, as the hugs she gave us when she was home for the holidays were heartfelt and lingering.