There is a bug making the rounds these days. Its symptoms are few, it isn't accompanied by fever, and there is no known cure. Onset can begin as early as summer camp, and usually peaks at the beginning of a new school year. Not everyone will be stricken, but chances are you or someone you know has been hit with a bout of homesickness, whether you've walked your youngest into first grade or moved a son or daughter into their college dorm room hundreds or thousands of miles away.
It's been 40 years since my mother took the 'baby' of the family to kindergarten. I can't remember what I had for lunch two days ago, but that morning is seered in my memory bank. There stood my mom, lips quivering, tears welling up. My sister stood motionless, like a deer caught in headlights.
This week that same little girl joined the growing ranks of baby-boomer empty-nesters, taking her baby to college a state away. We could have done a week's worth of laundry with the waterworks in our family the past couple of weeks. Had someone not known better, they would assume the college coed was being deployed to Afghanistan, or worse yet - Calabassas to live with the Kardashian clan. Who knew sending a loved-one off to the University of fill-in-the-blank would stir feelings akin to banishment in Siberia or crusing aboard Titanic?
There are so many emotions and layers of dynamics at play when the apron strings are loosened, the heart strings are tugged, and the nest is suddenly nothing more than twigs and branches, that it would take a year of Dr. Phil episodes to decode it all.
This much I do know, having walked down this well-worn path four years ago when we sent our oldest, a high school sophomore at the time, away to a military academy boarding school: I'm not sure whom the situation is tougher on, but like a great wave off Malibu, everyone will need to ride it out.
Some, like my sister, will do so clutching her youngest's ankles as her child heads to class; others will never even put the car in park long enough to wave goodbye.
A year ago, we loosened the apron strings even more, moving our collegian into his dormitory at Ole Miss, the pride and joy of the South, where 'hotty toddy' isn't a beverage, but a religious experience and the excitement and energy could power a third-world nation. Our emotional trip was marked by arguments in the school supply aisles of Walmart, disagreements over whether we were allowed inside the sacred dorm room (college kids need our money, but still view us as members of an alien nation), and verbal battles about the necessity of a small battalion of appliances for a room smaller than a futon.
In our case, we couldn't part company fast enough, and our exhasperation prooved a great distraction on the flight home, until we returned to our nest, and listened for sounds of life. Instead, we were greeted by the whir of our appliances and the computer.
Whether your child will be adjusting to elementary school or living away from home for the first time, how you react will set the tempo for them. If you are doubled over and grief-stricken, expect a similar reaction from your student. Talking positively about the excitement to come, reassuring your child that this new chapter is a wonderful thing, and that these days ahead will be some of life's 'best of times', will be the strongest medicine possible for homesickness, on your end and theirs.
And when everyone is feeling better, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. When birdies leave the nest, it is mom and dad who helped strengthened their wings. Then slip into a bubble bath and let Calgon take you away. Afterall, it 'manners' a lot!