I have an empty nest at my house. No, really, it’s an empty bird’s nest and it sits on my porch mocking me. You see, I have an empty nest in my heart as well.
Louis, my youngest child, has left for college. People tell me not to be sad and that York College is only a forty-five minute drive away. They say he’ll be home on weekends and holidays and at some point I’ll even look forward to him going to school. I know they’re right, but I am still sad.
When Louis was nine he was a Boy Scout and went away to camp for the first time. Neither of my children had ever been away overnight before without me. I was sick to my stomach with worry over the endless possibilities of what could go wrong. He would be with his leaders, people I knew well and trusted, but that gave me no comfort. One thing I worried about was that he wouldn’t receive any letters at mail call. Yes, that’s right, lack of mail was my greatest fear.
I knew a lot about how kids treated one another and how slippery the slope was from one of the gang to being completely ostracized. I had taught elementary school for years and saw up close how the game was played. I didn’t want him standing alone while the other boys received letters and packages. I spent a week phoning relatives and neighbors giving them Louis’s camp address. At night I sat up cutting out comic strips from the newspaper and copying jokes from books that he could share with his group. I started sending the letters a few days before he left so that he would be sure to receive one on his first day.
The time he was away flew by and soon we were on our way to pick him up. He had had a great time and nothing had gone wrong…except for one little thing. It seemed that asking people to write to your child is not the same as inviting them to a party, you don’t need to pad the list. If you ask thirty-two people to write a little boy, thirty-two people will do just that. Louis said he was embarrassed every morning when his name was called because he would receive a pile of letters and the other boys never had any mail at all. Some were still unopened in his sack when we got home. He said he didn’t have enough time to read them all. I guess I really shouldn’t have sent two letters a day.
I promised next time I would organize things better, but Louis informed me there had better not be a next time. Don’t you just hate parents who get overly involved in their kid’s lives? In the years that followed whenever he went away, whether to camp or the National Young Leaders group, I kept my writing to journal entries. I realized it wasn’t Louis who needed the letters, it was me. I needed that connection to him.
It has been one and a half weeks since Louis left for college. We had dinner last night. He made sure I had the address for his post box. I better get started on those letters.
Readers: How did your parents handle things when you left home?