Have you ever had the candy "Sweet Tarts?"  Kids love them because they're sweet enough to be a treat yet bitter enough to make your face scrunch up.  Sweet Tarts are both fun to eat and distasteful simultaneously.  They are bittersweet.

So it is with life passages.  I'm writing this as I enter my second week as an empty nester.  My youngest child, Ethan, is nearly 700 miles away at the college of his choice, which is a great fit for him.  I'm in the enviable position of knowing he is ready to take on this new challenge and I anticipate his thriving intellectually, emotionally and socially.  As further evidence of his readiness to leave home, he missed nearly all of orientation due to illness, culminating in emergency surgery.  I quickly bought two plane tickets for my husband and me to fly to him, only to cancel them a few hours later when Ethan adamantly said he could handle this on his own and for us to stay put.  His good bye to us five days earlier was more than "see you later;" it was good bye to his childhood.  I am so very proud of how he has handled his medical situation.  Sure, he was in communication with us throughout, but he had the confidence and wherewithal to take steps to find out the problem, eventually signing the permission papers for surgery.  I am bursting with pride and excitement for Ethan as he embarks on this new phase of his life.  There is nowhere else on earth I rather he be right now.  Yet, I must admit I got a slight pang when I looked into his room upon returning from the good byes.  Bittersweet.

This isn't my first experience of bittersweet with my children this year.  In February, my 21-year-old daughter, Danielle, boarded a plane to New Zealand for her junior year semester abroad.  As an extremely independent young woman, she bought a one-way ticket because she wasn't sure if and where she may have wanted to stop on her way home in July.  Bangkok?  New Delhi?  The whole world is open to her and she has started exploring every corner available.  As we said good bye at the airport, I knew she was more than ready for this journey, yet there was that pang again.  I wanted to jump up and down with excitement for her. I was so very proud of the young woman she had become, and knew she was doing exactly the right thing for her.  She waved good bye to us as the hiking boots dangled off of her backpack.  Bittersweet.

So far, I am enjoying the liberation of not being a full-time mother.  I am still surprised when I return home and the house is just as I left it.  There are always plenty of towels in the linen closet (as opposed to being on Ethan's floor).  The house is pleasantly quiet in the evenings without young people coming and going into the wee hours.  After nearly 22 years of devoting myself to the kids, I'm basking in empty nester-hood.

So why is it bittersweet?  Because as much as I love my new life stage, I loved all the stages before it.  I loved making buns in Danielle's hair for ballet.  I loved going to Ethan's soccer games, even in the rain.  I loved all the back to school nights.  I loved having the house filled with their friends.

I wouldn't change anything, and heaven knows, I wouldn't want to go backwards.  Everyone is doing exactly what is right for them.  I am truly blessed.  But that doesn't mean I don't occasionally get that pang.  Bittersweet, indeed.


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