Mother's Day: A Single Mom Braces Herself to Face the Empty Nest

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After 21 years of priceless homemade cards and many bowls of soggy cereal lovingly served to me in bed, I regret to inform myself that this Mother’s Day will likely be the last one I spend with either of my children for a while.

My youngest daughter is 17 and will graduate from high school in a few short weeks. Soon she will be flying off to college in the footsteps of her older sister, rendering my nest completely empty.

That sound you hear is my heart shattering.

I’m about to be handed the ultimate pink slip. “It’s been real, Mom, but we’re all grown up now. We’ll take it from here.”

I always knew this day would come eventually. The moment the nurse hands you that burrito-wrapped newborn in the hospital, the clock starts ticking. Your children are officially on loan to you from God. Lest you get too attached, you need to remember that the promissory note comes due in about 18 years, at which time you will carve out a huge piece of your heart and hand it over as they carelessly toss it in their suitcase and walk out the door toward their own destiny.

When my daughters were born, four years apart, I started keeping a digital diary for both of them. I needed something to do in the middle of the night between feedings. But mostly, I felt compelled to document every wondrous stage of their growth. Cliché as it is, children really are miracles, and I wanted to remember every moment of their childhood. My intention was to present each diary to my daughters when they became young women and were ready to head off to college.

What I never imagined, at the time, was that these precious moments and milestones that I tried to keep track of would end up being a gift to myself and provide the comfort I needed as a soon-to-be-empty-nester so many years later.

My younger daughter and I butt heads a lot, probably because we are so much alike. I had been racking my brain for six months trying to come up with one, last desperate attempt to bond with her. A mother/daughter spa day? A weekend road trip? Something she would remember for the rest of her life. Talk about putting undue pressure on myself!

Then a few weeks ago, I came across a copy of her diary that I had printed out about two years earlier. I offered to read it aloud to her, and she agreed. For the next week, every night before she went to bed, we relived her childhood, moment by moment. Seventeen years packed into about 200 pages. There was so much that I had forgotten. Moments you think you will remember forever, but your human brain can’t possibly store all those colorful details.

Like how she used to suck her toes while in her baby carrier. And the time the toddler almost got hit by a school bus when I turned away for a second to talk to another mom. And how much she loved apple juice and reading. And how, after her dad and I split up, my then 3-year-old came home one weekend after staying with him and said, “Mommy, I missed you. You were in my heart.”

With each entry, a new revelation. I had forgotten how funny and smart she was from day one. (Teenagers have a way of making you forget the good times.) And I think she had forgotten how patient and dedicated I had been to her.

Forget the spa day and the road trip. This diary was the missing link between us, and I believe it has brought us closer together, just in the nick of time. Just as she’s about to wave good-bye.

As parents, we’re riddled with guilt and regret. We always wish we could have done more, said more, played more, taught more, modeled more patience. But I learned, through my own words written long ago, that I had not done so badly after all. I loved my babies with all my heart, and when I became a single mother, my daughters remained my priority above all else.

This diary has been a blessing to both of us. It is the story of my daughter’s life, and she will leave her childhood behind knowing how special she always has been.

My own words have delivered redemption to me. I forgive myself for not being a perfect mom. But I was the best mother that I could be, and I am ready to move on, with no regrets, to the next phase of my life as a woman, a writer and always, a mother.

Lynn Armitage is a contributing writer and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.