As a mother, I feathered my nest with pretty things that would make my four young children feel happy, joyful, and secure. Each had a room decorated with a theme that matched their childhood interests: Sam with his sports motif, Gus with the planets and stars, Mary Claire with a special flower garden, and George with a jungle full of stuffed animals. I painted with carefully selected and coordinated shades from Sherwin Williams and painstakingly hung decor from their ceilings and on their walls. Part of Mary Claire’s garden was a room full of 3D flowers, carefully chosen during multiple visits to Michael’s and then affixed everywhere with tiny nails.

A million holes to fill with putty and fresh paint when interests changed and tastes evolved.

“Mama, the shadows from the flowers scare me at night,” my anxious daughter had whispered in my ear. And so, the flowers came down, and the walls were repaired and repainted.

Anything to make them feel safe and loved and heard.

We left that carefully crafted nest for their father’s job in Mississippi a few years later, and I realized home would never again be quite the same.

~ ~ ~

When I came out at age 46 and left my marriage at 49, home looked very different for all of us. During the divorce, I rented a small cottage in the heart of our Ohio town where my teenagers would rest their heads every two weeks. During the other two weeks, they’d stay with their father, and I would exist alone, with our aging family dogs, Maggie and Lucy, by my side. Sam was already in college, finding his new home at the University of Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter, I moved Gus to his new dorm at Ball State University in Indiana, and a year after that, Mary Claire made her way to The Evergreen State University in Washington. 

~ ~ ~

When George was a junior in high school, I was offered a lucrative position in Indianapolis that would help me pay for my kids’ college educations as well as my new, single life. Although his father and I had promised George that we’d both remain in Ohio until he graduated from high school, life had other plans, as it often does.

George was a violin prodigy, and he’d established himself within the local orchestra circles in Perrysburg and Toledo.

“If you want to come to Indiana with me, I’ll send you to school wherever you want to go. Public, private, whatever works best for you. I’ll make it happen. But I also understand if you want to stay where you are and graduate with your friends,” I said.

Sadly for both of us, he chose to stay. It was the best decision for him, but it broke my heart to be without him. Two years later, I took him to the University of Colorado-Boulder in the middle of a global pandemic and helped him move into a shared dorm room.

The last of my baby birds, flown.

~ ~ ~

Some children choose to stay in their hometowns and close to their parents for the long haul. My children have never been those children. They have always dreamed of spreading their wings, of flying to unknown locations, of leaving the Midwest for good. Mountains and oceans called to them, and their father and I encouraged them to answer that call. We wanted them to have their own lives, their own dreams, and their own plans. 

But I miss them desperately.

When I see photos of others’ large family gatherings—for birthdays, for holidays, for sports events—my heart squeezes in my chest. I am jealous of those who have the resources to make that happen again and again for their families. I am jealous of those who still have mothers and sisters alive and in the world. And I am also so very grateful that all four of my kids are happy and healthy and thriving, even if they’re not living their lives next door to me.

Even though I miss the sounds of their laughter.

~ ~ ~ 

That first house, the house of painted walls and 3D flowers made me dream of my grown kids coming home for Christmases, for Thanksgivings, bringing significant others and maybe grandkids. I wanted to have a place for them all to gather, to sleep in the beds they’d slept in as children. But those dreams are long gone now, replaced with others.

Today, I simply want them to be happy, fulfilled. To know their home is in my heart, always, wherever I am. To know they can always come to me, and I will have a place for them. And to also know that it’s okay if they choose not to come home as often as I may like. That it’s okay for them to have their own traditions, their own lives.

They are, after all, not mine and never have been. I simply had the joy of bringing them into and introducing them to the world.

They are their own.

I am a mother of children who have chosen to leave.

Giving them wings is the greatest success and the greatest sadness of my life. I can hold both things within me simultaneously. To watch them soar off into their own lives and to miss them still with every ounce of my being.

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