Empty Nest Syndrome…

 
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Made Me Appreciate My Own Parents

With each stage of life my children pass through, I gain a renewed respect for my own parents. Last week I faced one of the hardest milestones so far with my eldest son. I flew him over two and a half thousand miles to a foreign country to start his first year at University. I am not alone facing this difficult day, there are many parents doing the exact same thing. Some parents may drive them just a few miles, some may have crossed a whole continent but the impact for all I’m sure is exactly the same.

They’re leaving the nest. They’re taking that next exciting step into their new lives. And although as a parent you feel immense pride for what they have achieved so far, your heart breaks just a little. Or in my case a lot!

The lead up to my son leaving was remarkably calm, matter of fact even. I threw myself into organisation mode. Ordering items on line and barking orders down the phone at my poor mum and dad ensuring every eventuality was covered. You see, I live in Cyprus and my parents live in the UK where my son would be moving to, so they became my ground zero team. I tasked them with buying essentials and showing me various crockery, cutlery, quilts and bedding via Skype for my approval.

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Yeah I know, I’m a total control freak but more on that later!

Everything needed to be perfect, with no room for error. I lived surrounded by lists and checked them off with an almost military zeal. This was my coping mechanism. My belief was that If I was busy I wouldn’t think so much, if I was stressing about how many pots and pans he needed, I wouldn’t be focusing on the fact he was leaving home.

To Do Lists

As I sat on the plane after an emotional farewell to my husband and youngest son, I thought back to the time I left for college and more specifically when I’d spent a placement year in Switzerland as part of my course.

I’d gone out alone, without GPS, without a mobile phone, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsaap or email. I drove through Europe and stayed on my own in a foreign country with only long rambling letters and a weekly phone call to my parents for communication. How the hell did my parents cope? Seriously?

I think of the angst I’ve been through over the last week, even with the five phone calls a day and the numerous messages and Skype calls to my son, and marvel at my parents!

If this experience has taught me anything, it is that however tough it was for me, it was tougher for them. They both watched me pack up the car with my son’s belongings and helped me settle him in. I unpacked his things and arranged them in my freaky organised manner; colour co-ordinated, season sectioned and occasion grouped! Told you I was a control freak. They kept their distance yet were always there for when I would break. Because they knew I would, of course I would. After all they’d been there too, over thirty years ago.

I held it pretty much together as I said my goodbye on that cool September night. He made it easy for me by joking around, knowing that his humour always defused my sober mood.

I knew he’d be fine. I never had any doubt. You see, when my friends and family asked me what worried me about him leaving, I realised they’d all misunderstood my emotions. I wasn’t worried about him. He’s one of the most capable twenty year olds I know. He’ll eat well, maybe too well! He’s never felt lonely, because he enjoys his own company. He’s hardly ever felt awkward because he openly laughs at himself and he’ll talk to anyone making sure everyone’s comfortable. Authority has never fazed him and he has always had a conscience beyond his years. From a small child he’s been gentle and considerate of others and has grown into a strong, gentle giant of a man.

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No, I never worried about him. But I was going to miss him. Miss every detail about him. From the way he dumps the junk from his pockets on the kitchen counter, to the way he carefully drapes his dirty clothes on the banister! His shoes that are always dropped at the foot of the stairs. His cheeky grin when he playfully teases me about my obsessive cleaning and my ‘standards’. The way when I ask him if he is hungry he always answers, “I could eat.” His ability to find humour in any situation and how he can silence almost anyone with a dry comeback. His horrible bristly beard, his infectious laugh and the dramatic sighs he always makes to wind me up, whenever I ask him to do anything!

I was going to miss all of those things. Of course everyone misses their children, I’m not unique and the words of comfort from everyone were appreciated. “You’ll get used it.” “He’ll be back before you know it.”

The truth is, I don’t want to get used to it, it’s as simple as that. And believe me I know it, he’s not here. There’s a huge gap in our home and the three of us who are left behind feel it every moment of every day.

I looked at my parents that evening and my level of respect for them rose to a new height. Nursing the rather large drink thrust at me by my father, I sat silently wondering what I was going to do with myself. I’d never even thought past getting my son settled.

I realised that I’ve learned so much from my parents but the most valuable gift of all is that they were always there for me when I needed them. They’d always let me do what I wanted, what was best for me. I made mistakes, some they witnessed, some thankfully they didn’t, but they were always there for me watching over, at a distance for whenever I needed them… even now.

(Note from The Editor: Anna-Maria Athanasiou is a regular Guest Writer at The Glass House. Anna is the author of “Waiting for Summer“, read more about her here. To become a house-guest and contribute articles to The Glass House Girls, click here)

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