To My Mom on Her First Mother’s Day as an Empty Nester

I *red heart emoji* you so much.

blake-bakkila
Photo by Blake Bakkila

There’s no remedy for an empty nest.

Part of the void can be filled with the excessive use of the red heart emoji, tags on relevant Facebook memes, UPS packages, and quick chats that inevitably evolve into hours-long conversations. And while I am forever indebted to technology, I know that as long as I’m in New York and my mom is in California, there will always be two empty nests.

With my sister in college now, this Sunday marks my mom’s first Mother’s Day in her new normal. In our family’s latest life stage: My little sister is studying for finals in Northern California and I am oh-so-inconveniently situated in New York City, 3,000 miles away from my first and best friend.

“Why would you ever leave California?!” is a commonly-asked question, typically shouted over howling wind, by East Coast natives ready to hang up their puffer coats. That’s easy: I traded the sound of crashing waves and proximity to nearly every member of my extended family for the innumerable odors of the subway and frequent shoves of passersby, all for the sake of journalism (and Ample Hills ice cream).

“When is she ever coming back to California?!” is a question my mom frequently fields, usually demanded by a pal she passes on her daily bayside walk. For this particular query, there truly isn’t an answer. And that’s okay. She says she’s proud, probably talks about my latest article, and then keeps moving. Because, despite our priority to be with each other as often as possible, the nest is empty for a reason. Embracing the cheesy analogy for what it is, there is a time to “fly away” and leave that place full of unconditional love and comfort.

But what I’ve learned is that the unconditional love and comfort isn’t held within the confines of my childhood home. Nothing will compare to her epic hugs, but my mom’s voice and words of wisdom are constantly accessible. She refuses to adjust her ringer any lower than full volume, which only presents problems when she’s in a movie theater or when I forget about our three-hour time difference and buzz her at my 10 a.m./her 7 a.m. But even through her groggy, half-asleep mumble, she’s present, positive and glowing.

My mom says people notice that she “glows” when my sister and I are in town, but I am confident that it’s never actually gone. I can feel it through the FaceTime call as she proudly unveils her latest victory after tackling a Real Simple recipe, and I can see it when she flashes her radiant smile in a photo with my dad.

The problem with our long distance relationship isn’t that we are empty inside or that we’ve lost our glow. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call our nests perpetually “three-quarters full.” There’s an unsettling impermanence to every moment spent in person and many more tears shed when saying goodbye, but now we share even more. From my review of the new ice cream venue I tried out to whether dad compromised and turned off the History channel last night, we’re never too far for the day-to-day recap.

Eighteen years in the nest built a formidable bond, but our four years out of the nest have exposed us to the benefits of cherishing each heart eye emoji and every single handwritten note (always with a consistent send-off: “XOXO, M.”)

So here’s to you, mama. Your nest might feel a little too empty right now, but my heart is so full. Hopefully yours is, too. I’ll see you when I see you, and most importantly, I will always love you. Happy Mother’s Day!

(Oh, and I’ll call you later.)