Janelle Harris knows that the day she sends her daughter off to college and becomes an empty-nester is closer than ever. And she realizes that it isn't as wonderful as it seems.
It’s 6 in the morning, the final moments of the day when my overly animated neighborhood is still steeped in silence and my block is uncharacteristically serene. In the streets. On the sidewalks. Inside the apartment above mine, where I’m almost certain the hyperactive kid upstairs is training to be an Olympian in floor exercise or 400-meter hurdles. His monstrous, wall-quaking thuds are on pause and my broom is resting in the closet, just being a broom instead of an assault weapon to demand quiet from the other side of the ceiling.
In my household, Teen Girl is still asleep and probably will be for another hour or so, careful not to rise too early and be faced with a list of tasks I’ve conjured for her to do before she leaves for summer school. I’m hip to her game. She’ll still have to take out the trash and do the dishes at some point today. But I let her stay cocooned in her sheets and blankets because this peacefulness is as valuable to me as every moment in bed is precious to her.
This is the golden time of day. I don’t have to fight for clear thoughts. They come to me in lilting little bounds.
I like it, though, because it’s temporary. I can’t imagine it always being this chill, particularly inside of my own home. But in two fleeting years, Skylar will graduate from high school and—please sweet merciful Jesus—head to college and I’ll be doing what I’m doing right now, just in a house that will never come alive with activity because I’ll be the only one in it. Hold me up with positive thoughts, y’all. I’m fittna be an empty-nester.
The realness of it has nudged itself up to the front of my mind, particularly this summer, since the natural question for adults to ask a teenager in between school years is what grade they’ll be entering when the new year starts. When my daughter tells them she’ll be 16 in October and she’s going into the 11th grade, then politely humors their surprise and a story or two about how they remember when she was yay big or only but so old, the next comment directed at me is all but inevitable.
“Oooh, she’s just about done, Mom. You’re almost free! What are you gonna do with yourself when she’s gone?”
It’s said as a joke and I chuckle and make some off-handed remark about turning her room into a Carrie Bradshaw-esque shoe closet. But it’s a serious question when I’m turned inward on my thoughts and try to knit a mental picture of what this thing is really going to look like. I’ve let her grow up in incremental milestones that hinted at the reality, but paced me through the realization, like allowing her to take the Metro and bus by herself, initially to school and now to her first job. But I’ve been Mommy since I was 19. I was still growing up the same time I was raising someone else and, because of that, my identity is all tangled up in being a parent. So the answer is I don’t have an answer. I really don’t know.
Maybe I’ll go back to Temple and finish the master’s degree I had to set aside when Skylar started kindergarten and I put her education in front of my own. Maybe I’ll apply for some fellowships and travel, which is something neither time nor budget would allow in the prioritization of child-rearing. Maybe I’ll move back to Brooklyn, which was always my dream, and do writerly things in the storied beauty of a brownstone apartment. Maybe I’ll stay myself right here in DC and pack my days with work and volunteerism to keep my mind busy and my idle hands from picking up my car keys and popping up, all uninvited, wherever she is. Just to check on her. And be nosy. To check on her and be nosy.
I halted my typing for a moment and listened intentionally to the coming alive of the community that had been in quiet preparation for the day. Down the hall, I can hear Smaller Harris’ signature shuffling of feet, indicating that she’s up too, and seconds later, she was 30 millimeters from my face, asking what I was doing. (You know kids bully the concept of personal space.) In the mornings, we usually watch old school videos on Centric. Today I tell her how Tevin Campbell used to be my one true love and we dance to De La Soul before she slings her bookbag over her shoulder and gives me a kiss goodbye.
Thank God it’s just for the day. The world ain’t ready for me with all of this free time on my hands just yet. Neither am I.