Bubble wrap blues

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Pop… pop… pop. I’m sitting at my desk, methodically squeezing the sheet of bubble wrap I plucked from an Amazon box. My office door is closed because I have to pop in private. Tom and I have agreed to disagree about whether all this pinching and popping reduces stress or drives him nuts.

The sound bounces around the quiet room, piercing the weird stillness. With each staccato squeeze, I try to deflate the balloon of mixed emotions swelling in my chest these past few days.

My boys are gone again – back to the college campuses they’ve begun to call home. And their little sister gets up each weekday and takes her Goldendoodle service dog to their last year of high school. After a summer full of family, foot traffic, laughter, and take-out pizza, this newly quiet house feels both peaceful and peculiar.

I know I’ll adjust. I did it last fall, and I’ll do it again. But this between stage brings an unavoidable collision of feelings from opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m so happy my sons are out in the world doing their own thing – and also terrified. I love how excited they are about this new semester and new experiences – yet I ache over their absence.

I’m so “smappy” this week – a strange combination of sad, mopey, and happy. I wait for one emotion to win out, but they’re tangled up like cheap knitting yarn in a bittersweet ball.

The trick is to give it time. In a month or so, I’ll appreciate fewer dishes in the sink and more time to work uninterrupted. Tom and I and our “baby” teenage daughter will fall back into the rhythm we had before the boys came home for summer.

But right now, it feels like college came along and broke up the band, and I have to wait at least nine months for the reunion tour.

When I catch myself moping, I get frustrated. After all, I’ve known since Day 1 that this was the goal – love them, raise them, and prepare them for the time when they leave to create their own life. And by some miracle, we managed to pull it off. I should be dancing around the house, celebrating two successful launches.

But nothing and no one can adequately prepare you for how it feels to have two huge chunks of your heart move to their own zip code. How it thrills you and kills you at the same time.

I do my best not to think too much about next fall when our daughter is scheduled to start college, too. When it comes up in conversation with friends, I just hum to myself and change the subject to something less scary, like climate change or smallpox.

I’ll deal with that monumental change later. For now, I’m savoring her senior year and all the sentimental traditions that come with it. I’m taking an absurd number of pictures and trying not to soothe my anxiety with carbohydrates.

And I’m asking friends and neighbors to save the therapeutic bubble wrap from their delivery boxes. A year from now, I’m going to need it.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon. 

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