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Saying Goodbye To My Son: When Your Kid is Leaving the Nest

I am packing adorable little cheese knives and a platter into a box for my son’s first grown-up apartment. I am trying not to cry, even though he is moving out in less than ten days. Instead, I ooh and ahh over how classy it will be for him to serve cheese when he has a date over.

I don’t think he really cares. I’m pretty sure he’s thinking, “I’m never going to serve cheese and crackers.” He’s also thinking about pizza and beer. And he’s asked me what kind of toilet bowl cleaner he should buy.

But for me, the adorable little cheese knives mean I am fired. They don’t really tell you when they first hand you that precious, soft, angelic-smelling little bundle in the maternity ward that by the very nature of your job, you are going to pour all your love and energy and angst and prayers and hopes into this baby, just so one day the baby will grow up and fire you.

In fact, if you have done your job well, you will actually hope to be fired. Sure, you tell your kids, “You can always come home.” You want them to know they have a soft, safe place to land if life hands them pain and disappointment—because by now you are old enough to have seen other people collapse under the strain of life from time to time. Maybe even yourself. So, though you say that, you don’t actually wish for it. You want your kids to fly.

Flight itself takes optimism.

You have to believe in the strength of your wings before you ever perch on the edge of the nest and try to soar. I wanted my kids to leave the nest with a sense of hope of all life could be. I know I left home with a lot of heartache, not getting along with my father and desperate to live anywhere but there. So I vowed to send my children off with a smile and glitter confetti—no matter how I really felt inside. To imbue them with self-confidence, to let them know I really do believe in them.

Yes, getting fired is the entire point of parenthood. I think about everything I have crammed into their brains: how to make a hard-boiled egg, decent homemade ramen, and French toast. How to pinch closed pierogi when we make them for Christmas. How to change the toilet paper roll (admittedly, I’ve given up—it never actually happens). To always practice safe sex. To do laundry, fold towels, and sew on a button.

I’ve taught them to look both ways when crossing the street, but also to look closely at how people behave and whether you can take them at their word. I’ve shared my opinions on politics, the patriarchy, and equality. I’ve told them that it doesn’t matter what’s in your bank account if you are not a good person and to always tip the server 20 percent. I’ve taught them to never, ever, ever drink and drive. Oh, and I’ve instilled in them my love of Miyazaki films.

In fact, from the moment I held their little hands and cooed to them, from teaching them how to walk, spell, read, say please and thank you, all the way to this moment—cheese knives and platter in hand ready for the packing tape—it’s all been a journey to the moment I get fired.

I tell myself that now my son doesn’t need me anymore.

Of course, I know that’s not true, too. Because though you will be fired, there is nothing in your Mom and Dad contract that says you cannot consult. And so, as each one flies the coop, there are calls and texts on everything from a sink backing up or a flat tire to roommate issues or homesickness.

In fact, part of the bittersweet goodbye of being fired is knowing adulthood is filled with other lessons I  cannot teach. We are all shaped by that torturous breakup, or our first truly great love affair—no one can live that for you or impart the wisdom gained by life experience.

We are shaped by bad bosses and jobs and tough experiences, and by amazing adventures and special moments and mysteries we must unravel. Life will be filled with ups and downs, and no human escapes without dark nights of the soul. I murmur to the Universe to please be kind to this boy I have raised to be now-grown. I want him to retain the optimism and hope of this moment. I want him to know that the door is always open, but I am certain he is ready to fly.

And, if nothing else, he can serve cheese and crackers when he lands.

Erica Orloff

Erica Orloff is freelance writer and novelist based in Virginia. She is mom of four, a fanatical Yankees fan, and a collector of Buddha statues. Follow her on Twitter: @ericaorloff.