One of the stan­dard con­ver­sa­tions of mid­dle age, for peo­ple with kids, is to polite­ly ask how each oth­ers’ chil­dren are.  And then, prob­a­bly, where they are and what they’re doing.  We have three young adult chil­dren from our house­hold, two in col­lege and one recent­ly grad­u­at­ed.  The recent grad­u­ate moved to upstate New York not long ago and is nav­i­gat­ing the finan­cial and emo­tion­al chal­lenges of mak­ing her­self at home in a new state.  When talk­ing about their geo­gra­phies, I often get some ver­sion of the ques­tion, “How can you stand to have them so far away?”

Before I met Jim, for a while my fam­i­ly was just my two daugh­ters and me.  Then, in August 2018, they both left for school — the old­est to col­lege in Massachusetts, and the youngest to fin­ish high school three hours away, at Gatton Academy (a pub­lic, free, statewide board­ing mag­net school at WKU).  They adapt­ed and strug­gled and thrived, instant­ly thrown into new friend groups and teams.  At home, liv­ing on 25 acres with ani­mals as com­pan­ions, I griev­ed their leav­ing, while at the same time I was proud and thrilled for them. I missed them.  I want­ed them to succeed. 

I didn’t know how to be with my friends with­out my girls near­by.  I had no one to dri­ve around to soc­cer games, no one to make mac­a­roni and cheese for, no one to take shop­ping, no one to laugh at the ani­mals with.  I missed watch­ing Glee with them and even help­ing them strug­gle through home­work.  My grief at their absence was force­ful and con­stant and overwhelming.

But I knew the alter­na­tive was worse.

When I was grow­ing up, my old­est sister’s launch from the nest was less suc­cess­ful.  Plagued by voic­es and depres­sion and poor roman­tic choic­es, my sis­ter strug­gled through col­lege, trans­fer­ring from Centre to UK to be near­er to mom and dad.  She lived in Lexington and Nicholasville most of her adult life.  She died three hours away from my par­ents, and she lived most­ly with­in 30 min­utes of them.  Partly as a result of her prox­im­i­ty to our folks and part­ly because of our 12-year age gap, we nev­er real­ly had a sis­ter rela­tion­ship inde­pen­dent­ly of them; I nev­er had a sleep­over at her house, and she nev­er vis­it­ed me when I lived out of state.  When my girls left home, even when my lone­li­ness (and undi­ag­nosed sleep apnea) chewed through my sleep, I thought often of Jenny and was grate­ful that my girls were well enough to fly and build their own nests.

This week, my younger daugh­ter head­ed north for her third year of col­lege and stopped en route to stay a few days with her sis­ter.  They’ve shopped and cooked togeth­er, prob­a­bly laughed at me togeth­er, and rant­ed togeth­er about all the ani­mal fur at our house in Winchester. They’ve hiked and gone to the lakeshore to swim and play.  They’re hav­ing a lot of fun with­out me.

And I’m hav­ing a great time think­ing about them.

  • Nancy Gift, a mem­ber of Better Together, Winchester, orig­i­nal­ly from Lexington, is a pro­fes­sor of Sustainability and Environmental Studies at Berea College, and spouse of Father Jim Trimble. She and Jim have three col­lege-age chil­dren and a menagerie of pets.