My son is a freshman away at college. A few days before moving him to school, I started having trouble falling asleep at night. My mind raced with things to include on his college packing list. I made additions and amendments to the list and threw in some “just in case” items. I was telling my best friend about my sleep woes. She said it sounds a lot like nesting before a baby is born.
Oh my goodness – yes! She’s a smart one! This situation reminded me of the few weeks following my son’s birth. Many sleepless nights were spent making lists of what we needed for a newborn and reading What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Too bad they don’t have one for those sending kids off to college! Brilliant idea for a how-to!
I thought more about the phenomenon of nesting. Nesting is a “burst of energy” women may get in the last few weeks of pregnancy when getting ready for the baby’s arrival. Now that I’m in my 50s, I wouldn’t exactly say the prep to get my son prepared for college coincided with a “burst of energy,” but the overall concepts are very similar!
The experts say examples of nesting include cleaning, stocking up, organizing, packing away items for storage, laundry, planning, having the nursery ready, shopping for household items, and being prepared for the “what-ifs.” I don’t doubt that some of those “what-ifs” from when I was pregnant with my son are still in our cabinets! This is similar to packing up your kid to go away to college for the first time, especially those “what-ifs!” to which I fully expect to return home with my son after his freshman year.
A vision of bookends came into my head, and I started to relate this to the stages of childhood. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the alternative definition of bookends is “one of two usually similar things that begin and end something.” Let’s say that the first bookend represents the birth of your child. Before the actual birth, nesting prepared you for life within those bookends.
And 17 or 18 years later, you find yourself at the far-end bookend. And just like that, it’s time to help your recent high school graduate preparing for their departure from college. Shortly they’ll be hopping over that second bookend and headed off on their own.
New Experiences and Unknowns
Without a doubt, everything changes when a baby comes into a family. You’ve never done this before, and your new routine is virtually no routine! You often have no idea what to expect or what’s coming next, not to mention the changes to family dynamics. Not dissimilar to when your child heads to college. Both for the child heading out and for the family at home. Everyone involved needs to learn and adapt to a new way of life.
The Range of All the Feels
Such excitement, but sadness. Beyond grateful, but fearful. When a baby is born, we cry tears of joy because we have this perfect baby in our lives, but also tears of sadness because we miss our former lives (and sleep!). And some tears of uncertainly questioning our ability to mother.
When your child leaves for college, we may question if they will be alright and wonder if you prepared them enough. Tears flow because your child will not be here and will miss them so much. Tears of joy, too, as you are beyond excited for your college-bound child. They were thrilled about their well-deserved new experiences and opportunities. Lots of spontaneous crying may accompany those bookends!
Advice Given and Advice Sought
The words said to you when a baby is born, and the words said to your college-bound child have similarities. It takes time. You’ll find your people (mom group or college crew). Take the help when offered. Remember the resources available to you. You don’t need to do it alone. You can learn so much by just listening and observing. Trust your gut. You’ll find your way.
Protection and Safe Environment
The key to all things nesting is protection. When setting out to create a safe environment for your child, protecting is at the core of everything you do. You have an overwhelming desire to prepare your home for the baby. And when your child is headed off to college, you want to ensure that they are safe and have what is needed to stay out of harm’s way.
I was nesting all over again! For the past 17 years, my husband and I raised our son to prepare him for “real life,” but as college time neared, it was crunch time! In preparation to hop over to the other side of that second bookend, it was time to finalize and confirm that my son had what he needed to be on his own. Ironically, nesting was necessary to ensure his readiness to fly the coop!
And between those bookends are an incredible bunch of stories—some amazing books and chapters, yet also some tough ones. The characters, though? They make all of those stories worth reading.
And although he is away at college starting up his library of books, I hope my son knows that he is always welcome to add new books to widen our bookends a bit.
Knowing that everyone’s lives are different since not everyone goes to college, not everyone with a child gives birth, etc., it is important to acknowledge that many versions of bookcases exist. But using bookends as a symbol to represent life stages seems valid. I might never be able to look at bookends the same way again.