When the Last Duckling Waddles Away


I woke up this morning. My 12-year-old had gotten up an hour earlier, showered, and was downstairs eating breakfast, fully dressed with her blue, overstuffed backpack sitting beside her pale green Converse on the kitchen floor.

We exchanged our good mornings.

I was still half asleep, stumbling with watery eyes from the coffee pot to the sink and back again, going through the same motions as I had the day before…as I do every day. I push the same round buttons without even looking, mechanical…robotic. Brew. Strong.

I holler over at the Executive to turn over on his side so that we don’t have to endure his snoring.

He slept on the couch again because, despite her limbs having grown long, our six-year-old still hasn’t broken her habit of falling asleep in our bed. I’m partly to blame.

There is something I will cherish until the day our youngest flees on her own about snuggling up with her in our cozy, queen-sized bed full of pillows and blankets to read to her when she brings me a stack of books at bedtime. In twelve years, I have learned how quickly these days are fleeting, and the past six weeks have thoroughly drilled the reality of this short timeframe into my brain.

This year, all of our ducklings entered school for the first time. All summer I eagerly awaited the day.

Sure, there was sorrow in my heart, a sinking feeling of the loneliness that would ensue for a while, but I was also full of excitement. All of those hours I would claim for myself!

But, to my surprise, when then the ducklings did all finally go off to school, I found myself sobbing in the shower every morning instead of dancing for joy in the foyer.

Instead of singing at the top of my lungs, I found myself wondering, ‘What in the hell am I going to do now?’

The silence is what got to me the most. For the first hour it was welcoming, but then it felt unsettling…eerie. Where were the Legos being shuffled around? The refrigerator being opened at snack time? The inevitable arguments between siblings spending too much time at home together?

But, as expected, in silence our house was cleaned to a tidy abnormal. The pantry was filled without me forgetting a single thing on my list.

The grocery store, as expected, was quiet and peaceful. But, as I found, it was also rather lonely and uneventful. No longer was I teaching colors and counting in the produce aisle, learning letters and beginning reading on the fronts of cereal boxes. No longer did I have an excuse to open the box of Cheerios right there in the aisle to fill a snack cup to then place into little hands much too small to fully grasp its sides.

My heart bursts a little at the thought that in less than 9 months, I will get to begin reliving all of these experiences all over again with our little boy. Still, I miss the days spent with my little girls, as nonstop insane and endless as they once seemed.

Had I enjoyed it enough? Did I miss anything? 

Was I as prepared as I should have been when my last little duckling waddled away?

As of today, it has been six weeks since all of my ducklings left for their first day of school, each heading off to their respective bus stops to travel out of my sight for eight hours a day, five days a week.

Since, I have fallen into somewhat of a routine.

The silence has been filled with iTunes or Amazon Prime as I pick up abandoned shoes left about the house, emptying the dishwasher and tackling our endless pile of laundry.

I talk to the dog more often. I even whisper endearments to the cat who had, for a long time, been my nemesis pooping out of his litter box and sleeping, camouflaged, in surprising spots along the staircase. I suppose he enjoys his food bowl being filled on time and his kitty litter being replaced respectably.

I make my rounds to the store, gathering snacks for Saturday soccer games. I run into Nordstrom to grab a requested cardigan because, even in the heat of late summer, the report is that the classrooms are cold.

My time runs more efficiently without having to stop to pick up a requested snack when someone gets hungry or to take someone, yet again, into a public restroom. After running errands and tidying about, I find that I even have time to get in an hour of yoga and enjoy another chapter in my book over my second cup of coffee before the ducklings return home again.

Oftentimes, as my often too-busy mind would have it, I have wondered what it is I can do now to prepare for what will happen in a little over five years and some odd months when our last baby, still in utero, catches his bus on his first day of school.

I could move store days to Saturdays. Cleaning for Sundays after Mass. I could invest in finishing my degree so that, in due time, I could find my purpose taking care of my family outside of the home, like so many awesome supermoms tend to do.

I could fill my time worrying about what is next—years and years ahead—so that I forget about the purpose I might find in today.

I could forget about the purpose in the promise that the Executive and I made to each other over a decade ago when we decide to divvy up our responsibilities 50/50:  him focusing on his career and me taking care of home. Although the girls are grown, it is still a compromise we rely on quite heavily to get by.

Even though our children have outgrown weekdays spent at home, our family still takes a full-time nanny for before and after school hours, a cook, a personal assistant, an Uber driver, a psychologist, a house cleaner, a project designer, a pet sitter… in order to keep the gears oiled and running smoothly.

Yet, even though I’m falling into a new routine and despite getting used to my new norm a little more each day, some days just don’t run as smoothly as others. Just this morning I found myself sitting on the couch still nursing my coffee after Good Morning America had ended and Live with Kelly had come on daytime TV. Feeling completely and utterly pathetic (the way daytime TV will often make us do), I peeled myself from the couch, took a shower, and got dressed for the day.

I opened my computer, wondering what, if anything useful, I would write today.

I ended up here on my blog, a site I have spent more money getting up and running than it will bring in return over a lifetime. Even though it’s unpolished around the edges, it is my little corner of cyberspace I can claim for my own.

In three hours that will go by much more slowly than it did just six weeks ago, the 12-year-old will get off the bus, burst through the front door, and sit across the table from me over a bowl of cottage cheese and peaches. Her face will light up as she pours over the events of her day. It will make sense, as it did the day before, my purpose for being here to greet her when she comes home, the comfort she finds in my presence.

And then, exactly an hour later, my littlest duckings will return. I will repeat the same scene all over again over elementary logic and packet of fruit snacks.

Although there are many things I can be doing to fill the hours of my day preparing for what is to come in another five years or an entire decade down the road, right now there is still a lot of purpose left in simply preparing myself for the gift of living each new day taking care of children still young enough to be sleeping under the same roof, even if my nest, for the time being, is a little more quiet than it had been just six weeks ago.