So here I am again. Trying to make myself into the supportive, happy adult who celebrates the launching of the children. Trying to be happy for them. Trying to embrace the wonderful new adventures that await them.
Trying to silence the woman inside of me who can’t even begin to understand how all of this could have unfolded so quickly. Trying to come to terms with the fact that a baby’s time is the blink of an eye, that the toddler gets to her feet before you can take in a breath, that the little girl can go from taking a bottle to reading a book in the time it takes for her grandmother to turn around.
Six years ago, almost to this very day, I realized that my time as a teacher had to come to an end. I left my classroom and said goodbye to my friends while mourning the change that confronted me. I wasn’t ready to retire, but I did. It was the right thing to do, given the political winds that were blowing.
But it was also the right thing to do because I was in desperate need of something to make me feel useful and wanted and important. It worked out perfectly for me, because my daughter was in need of a safe, secure, affordable child care option.
So Ellie, my sweet first grand child, became my saving grace, my saving responsibility, my link to my nurturing inner self. Even as I mourned the fact that I was no longer teaching a group of children to love learning, even as I missed those moments when I would laugh out loud with 24 young kids, I learned to embrace my role as the “Momma stand in”.
My days of watching little Ellie were the bridge that allowed me to move from my professional career to my retirement life. Her smiles were my pay checks. Her hugs were my lifeline. Her first words, first steps, first solid foods were my reassurance that I remained relevant in this world.
Every time I bathed Ellie, and wrapped her in a towel, I was reminded of my mothering years. I was reminded and reassured that I was actually really good at this nurturing woman thing. Ellie’s trusting gaze, her arms reaching up for me, the way that her parents trusted me to protect and care for her; all of this let me grow into this next phase of my life. It let me move past the grief and anger of my last year of teaching and find a place where I could once again embrace and accept my strengths along with my many weaknesses.
I loved being “Nonni” to my grandchild. I loved the way she looked at me, and the way she missed me when we were apart. I relied on her love and her acceptance as I settled into my retirement life.
And when her brothers were born, it was all of that time with Ellie that let me seamlessly move into my role as Nonni and daycare provider for all three of them.
Because of my time with Ellie, my house now contains more art supplies than any craft store. Due to the fact that I was totally smitten with her, we have three toy boxes, two Pack N’ Plays, a giant box of playdoh and and ten pounds of kinetic sand. We have bibs, and potty chairs and sippy cups and paint smocks.
When Ellie was born, I became the next generation of caregivers. I stepped in to support my daughter by letting her be a teacher while I changed her baby’s diapers and snuggled her girl to sleep.
You can probably understand why I am feeling sad and proud and nostalgic and scared, all at once.
Ellie, my sweet next generation first baby, is about to finish kindergarten. She did this year through remote learning, so she has been here with me for a year longer than we had ever anticipated.
But this crazy, terrifying, upsetting year of Covid is finally winding down. Ellie is one short week away from finishing her kindergarten year. She has learned more than I could ever have predicted. She has gained confidence in her intellect, and is trusting her own ideas and her own voice. She has her own sense of style, and her own preferences in food, fashion, music and art.
She is ready, or more than ready, to take on her next big step in life.
She is ready to go off to first grade, to meet new friends, to learn a million new things, to grow into her own bright and spirited self.
And I am so happy for her.
And so incredibly sad for me.
My nest is beginning to empty once again. My beautiful little fledglings are getting ready to fly.
And it’s good. It is just as it should be.
And my heart hurts just as much as it did the last time I faced the sorrow of the empty nest.
You really do break our hearts.