Emery doesn’t live here anymore…

The one thing I haven’t done since my return to Kansas a week ago, is to go see my daughter, Emery, and simply hang with her and catch up, face to face.  I know.  She doesn’t live here anymore.  I should know that.  I helped box up belongings and distributed them to Good Will, my basement, and a moving truck parked in their driveway on I swear the hottest, most humid day that Kansas has ever seen in May.  The remaining items were then stuffed into my car and driven to Ft. Collins, CO, where I then helped unload, unpack and empty the contents into cupboards, shelves and closets.  I know which drawer her orange-handled carrot peeler is in, but keep forgetting that she and her husband, Miles have moved.

On the Colorado side of the 657 mile journey…

In order to understand where I am now, I feel like I have to back up several years to when I first was divorced.  My son, Grant, was a senior year in high school and my daughter, Emery, a freshman. My oldest son, Thomas, was already in college.  Although Grant was a part of my transition,  it was after that first year when I was no longer coasting on the affects of adrenalin and making up my life a day at a time, when the real work began.  It was with Emery that I truly cut my teeth of independence and began to figure out exactly who I was and what I was supposed to be doing.  I had already done what I thought was the hardest part, but would later learn that it wasn’t the jumping off the proverbial cliff that was the hardest part, but rather, my anticipation of growing the wings I would need for a safe landing. That’s what kept me up at night.  Selfishly, I was grateful to not have to be alone when I had to go through the crises that seemed to come with regularity, including an exploding water pump in the basement and the bird’s nest in the porch light that caught fire from the heat of the bulb on a windy night, ending in a 911 call.  Although we were both treading in new waters and had no idea what we were doing, we had each other and not knowing feels a whole lot better when you have someone sitting next to you. Emery showed me what grace under fire looked like and unbeknownst to her, I’m sure, became my teacher….she and Lorelei Gilmore, that is, the leading role from the TV show “The Gilmore Girls”.

Emery and I loved the Gilmore Girls and would tune in whenever it was on.  It was entertainment for Emery, but far more for me.  I tuned in to learn how to be a divorced Mom to a teen-aged girl.  Lorelei Gilmore helped me find the confidence I needed to maneuver my way in this new role and as odd as it may sound to put such stock in a TV character, also made me feel not so alone in this new place. We (my television mom friend, Lorelei, and I) were on the same time schedule, with daughters who would be flying the nest at the same time.  I watched with anticipation, excitement and a deep seated sadness as we both seemed to be marking days at the same time and with the same speed.  I’ve got to think that Emery knew this as we sat next to each other on the couch every Sunday night and tuned in.  Even now, several years later, I am often touched to tears when I hear Carol King’s song, “Where You Lead” (the show’s lead in song) because of the many memories it conjures up.  I knew what was going to happen in the show because it was inevitable.  The daughter goes to college.  She leaves.

In the spring of Emery’s junior year, we got to enjoy several weeks of actually watching the process of  “flying the nest,” when a pair of cardinals nested in a tree right outside our kitchen window. Not even the Gilmore girls witnessed the incredible course of events that unfolded in the weeks to come (that we knew of…), although we both agreed it would have been a great story line for the show.  We went from watching mom sitting on the eggs, to seeing the babies peck their way out of the tiny shells then watched as dad would forage for food and bring it back to the mom, who would then feed her babies.  We were both awed by the beauty of watching the two birds turn into a family and the roles that all seemed so familiar to us. We watched from our own perch on the kitchen floor, all hunched down below the window sill and barely breathing, so as not to frighten them.  It became our TV and for me,  another role model to learn from.

We followed them, felt connected to them and I learned from them.  It wasn’t long before we watched the papa bird begin to teach the babies how to fly by flying to a nearby branch then would look back to the nest of baby birds and whistle.  We translated the whistle to,  “watch me and then do what I do.”  And eventually, they did.  Emery and I both beamed with maternal joy as we watched what were only eggs in a nest a few weeks ago, grow up, find their independence and make their maiden flight over to a nearby branch.  We witnessed as they practiced the short flight over and over again, always with a safe return to the comforts of the nest and mom.  A few days later, the babies had all flown the nest and we assumed were filled with the excitement of having their own places.  Emery and I had a high school graduation to attend and made one last look at the nest before leaving the house, now empty of its babies. Something seemed very poignant about the sequence of events given the timing of our leaving for a high school graduation.  I had been witnessing my own reality of a soon to be empty nest in the truest sense of the word.  Could a metaphor ever again be this spot on? If she hadn’t been a bird, I would have enjoyed a coffee and a chat with her, about that empty nest and all.  Did it feel too big now?  Is it lonely?  When we got home a few hours later, we were surprised by our discovery.  Lo and behold, all the babies had returned home from their various homes on branches in nearby trees.  I couldn’t help but smile, and felt a huge sense of relief for their mama.

It’s not a very clear photo, but we were being very thoughtful with our presence while watching from the kitchen window as we didn’t want to scare the protective mother.

I couldn’t help but think about that series of events with the family of cardinals while on the road to Ft. Collins in my overly loaded car.  Whether it was 657 miles down I-70 or from one tree to the next in my back yard, it was all the very same thing from the viewpoint of a mom….leaving the nest, the town, the state.  While I followed Emery’s car for every one of those 657 miles, I thought about the last time I had followed her on the highway, both of us with overloaded cars, when I moved her into her dorm at the University of Kansas.  I worried about her and how she’d do with this next big transition.  Or so I told myself… I was really worried about me and how I would handle this next big transition.  There was comfort, both times, in being able to take refuge in the comfort of being alone in my car.  I could cry.

Again, I followed my daughter down the highway as she tested her wings – this time with Miles

I’m certainly not expecting Emery to land back in my nest, but I know I’ve given her an internal compass that will always point her home.  Actually, I gave all 3 of my kids a small box for their graduation from high school that contained among other symbolic items, a compass that would always point them home.  When I was typing the letter that went into the box for Emery, just as I had done for her brothers, I envisioned her home as always being where I was and where she had come from, as that was the only reference I knew at the time.  Now I realize that the compass, although orientated to “home,” was now pointing her to the mountains of Colorado, where she has found her next home with her husband, Miles.  Still, she will always carry with her the internal compass that will always point her home – whether that’s to an actual physical location or to a feeling she carries in her heart.

My heart has stretched, yet again, across the 657 mile stretch of I-70 from Leawood, Kansas to Ft. Collins, Colorado, and although I can’t say I don’t feel sad at times, I’m with a very full heart that knows that although as parents we strive to give our children both wings and roots, it is in their flying that they will truly learn about life. As you fly, Emery, I learn, and in the process, we both grow.

Wings that took us to Perú…wings that would later take you there again…without me.

And to you,  Emery, you will not have an easier house guest.  I know where everything in your kitchen is as I put it there.  Second drawer to the right of the stove for the orange-handled carrot peeler…

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