Fall is on the way and school is back in session. I have had an “empty nest” for quite some time now, with my two children turning 26 and 23 next month. When they were little, I never dreamed that day would come, but now it seems like only yesterday that they were small.
A few years ago, Chicken Soup for the Soul put a
call out for stories for an upcoming book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters. My daughter Jessica had gone to college just the year before that, and so I submitted two stories that were both accepted for that edition of Chicken Soup.
One of the stories, I Remember Seventeen, was about my own
rebellious teenage years, and the vow I made to ALWAYS remember what it felt like to be seventeen—something I was sure my mother had forgotten! When my daughter turned seventeen, I had to remind myself of that long ago promise to myself…and suddenly, I knew what my own mother must have been feeling at the same tumultuous time in our lives.
The other story I wrote was called My Nice Surprise. When Jessica was a little girl, I would sometimes tempt her with “a nice surprise”. “Let’s do this and then we’ll get a nice surprise afterward.” Sometimes, I wasn’t sure what the “nice surprise” was going to be myself—but we always figured out something, whether it was ice cream, a trip to Wal Mart and a new toy, or going to the park.
One day, when Jessica was three or so, we’d gone to Wal Mart to pick out the “nice surprise”. We walked on and on up and down the toy aisles. “I’ll know it when I see it,” she told me. Just when I had begun to despair that she’d see “it” at all, suddenly her eyes lit up and she pointed. “Right there! By your hand!”
He looked so real, brown bendable fangs and all. But she loved him and would even put him on the bed when she slept. One day, I found Simon in my underwear drawer, curled and ready to strike. It
tickled me that she would have put him there, and waited for me to find him. I didn’t say anything, just took him out of the drawer and put him under her pillow. That night, I heard her squeal with laughter when she discovered him back in her room again.
Simon began to roam the house, finding his way under my pillow at times, or into the clothes hamper. I’d always be properly startled—squealing in mock fright, ending with laughter. “Oh, Simon,” I’d exclaim. “You really got me that time.”
Because this game delighted Jessica so much, I began hiding Simon in her room for her to find.
I always knew when she did. I’d hear her infectious giggle, followed by, “Simon! You really got me that time!”
Eventually, Simon was relegated to the toy shelf, then the top of the closet. Suggestions
of packing him away were met with dire opposition.
Graduation day came, and shortly, Jessica would head off to college. Even though she would be
attending a university only an hour’s drive from us, I felt the hole in my heart as surely as if she were moving across the country. Becoming a college girl marked a new phase of her life; a new level of independence—and of not needing her mom.
With mixed emotions, I waved goodbye as she pulled out of the driveway, her radio blaring.
She rolled the window down and shouted something I couldn’t hear about the roar.
“Look in your bedroom!”
I nodded, and waved again. It was time, and I reminded myself that I had known this day was coming. But it didn’t help. I felt just as bereft as I had when she’d gone to first grade. I had followed the bus—from a distance—then sat parked in the school lot, watching her walk so confidently from the bus to the school.
There were other mothers there that day, parked and watching. I realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone today, either, but it sure felt like it.
I waited until Jessica drove around the corner. Then, I went inside and opened my bedroom
door. Nothing was different. I must have misunderstood what she was telling me. I sat down on the bed, then lay full length.
But when I put my head down, I felt something odd on my pillow. I pulled the spread back. There was Simon the Rubber Snake staring up at me from hellish orange-red eye sockets, his fangs still intact
after all those years.
Isn’t he cute? Simon’s a good snake… A childish voice echoed from the past.
A yellow sticky note was wrapped around his body. I unfastened it, reading slowly.
Take care of Simon the Rubber Snake for me, Mom. I’ll see you this weekend. Love, Jess
I picked him up and hugged him, thinking of that long ago day when he’d first come to live with us, and all the years in between.
You’re such a good girl, Jessi . . .
“Oh, Simon,” I whispered. “You really got me that time.”
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in e-book format and print. I also have a story in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages From Heaven edition (same link.)