Nothing good ever comes of waking up at 4 in the morning.
It's a mistake to start thinking at that hour; 4 a.m. produces bleak, dark, anxious thoughts. I can think the same thoughts at 4 in the afternoon and brush them off with a trilling Katharine Hepburn laugh: "Hahahahaha!" But at 4 in the morning, they give me a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, and a clutching sensation in my stomach.
That's how I woke up this morning—feeling like I was caught in a landslide with my feet slipping out from under me, about to be carried over a cliff. Oh, and my daughter leaves for college in two weeks.
Once upon a time, I swore I would never be one of those weepy mothers boo-hooing about their empty nests. "That's pathetic," I thought 20 years ago, when a friend admitted to crying constantly after her son left for college. "How weak."
And there I was this June, taking weepy stock of every "last" moment—last time dropping her off with her carpoolmate at 7 in the morning; last time picking her up from the bus stop after her crosstown ride back from school; last time stopping for a milk-tea boba in Westwood Village; last time driving toward home.
It was actually the mundanity of these moments that made me nostalgic—these were just the familiar routines of everyday life, the ones we'd taken for granted for four years. Now I was cataloguing them, pinning them to a board like museum specimens. And snuffling.
In this case, there is a one added twist to the garden variety empty-nest syndrome: As soon as my daughter leaves for college, I'm whipping her childhood home out from under her. That's what had me gasping for breath at 4 a.m.
In my "Little Women" post, I suggested that I'm pretty calm about the future, because I can envision a time when my adult daughter and I can hang out together, having lunch, shopping at Target, enjoying each other's company. Other posts have described my excitement about this new chapter in which I leave L.A. and finally move to New York, a city I've wanted to live in since I was eight. And that's all true. Especially at 4 in the afternoon.
But at 4 this morning, I was feeling something else—this huge undercurrent of guilt about taking away the home she's grown up in, the bedroom where she's spent hours doing homework and watching episodes of "Mythbusters" on her computer, the table where we ate dinner while the cat gnawed on her socked foot.
I don't always feel this way, and I don't think she always feels this way. We've agreed it's "weird" to think of this place not being here for us anymore. But we're both going toward something new and positive, toward adventures we've been anticipating for years. The loft in New York is familiar, almost a second home by now. She has a chest of clothes there, and books on the shelf. And her foot-fetishist cat will be there waiting when she comes down for long weekends.
People describe these vacillating emotions as a roller-coaster; I think of them more as a teeter-totter: down into the abyss when the sky is charcoal-gray and the moon is piercing the curtains, back up when the sun's overhead and the coffee's burbling in the pot.
You can hold two thoughts in your head at once, right? Sweet-and-sour; half-empty, half-full; jumbo shrimp. So I'm happy-sad, looking forward-looking back. Pathetic and weak—and excited and brave. It just depends what time of day you catch me.