By Marni Battista, MAEd, CPC

There is the sound a door makes when it closes. To the ear it can be heard simply as one sound, a final beat of the drum, but what I hear in my mind is not so much that singular noise. When really listening, I hear the door closing in slow mo. If that is even a thing, hearing, in slow mo.

I can feel it too, of course, that final closure. I have known it was coming, after all. I may have heard it before it, possibly anticipating the weightiness, the sweeping dramatic finality, labeled and categorized as a phase of life: The Empty Nest. The motion of the door swinging shut leaves me with what feels like the breeze of the Maui wind coming in off the ocean on my salty skin just before sunset when the air has an imprint of heat on it. I hear, too, the series of staccato beats as it hits the frame, the metallic click, the sound it makes just before the air is pushed out as the door seals. An era over. Sealed. Shut.
The click, click, click, as it connects with the lock brings me back to the pitter-patter of three pairs of feet, one just a toddler still, making laps between the kitchen and the living room and the hallway where the inherited grandfather clock sits erect and stall with hands that have not moved since it arrived in my house twenty-one years earlier. The three girls, seven years between oldest and youngest, my daughters, exuberant and pink-faced at having run so fast inside, and needing that drink of water, ‘puhleeese,’ the multisyllabic drumming in my thirty eight year old ears, a mom.

Mum. Mommy. Mother. Their determined eyes, smiles filled with small, white baby teeth, ‘a popsicle, puhleese,’ they sing, they want one from the batch we have just made that is waiting in the freezer, the blended fruit captured, frozen in time, upside down in the faded often used plastic ice pop mold. Click click click.

But time is not frozen. So there is shopping for bras and driving and tests and homemade soup brought upstairs and homework and the clamor of plates in the sink and American Idol and Suite Life of Zac and Cody on the TV and then graduations until ultimately, the door closes, because it must, because it has been pushed shut, which is good, which is the point of it all, isn’t it? Motherhood.

The door might open and shut again, of course, it will along the way, like it did last March, when the world went into lockdown. But what I will remember about that day ten days ago is that like most things in motherhood, I did not realize this was it. The one final thud, the singular moment the last of my three daughters closed the door behind her on the way to the life I raised them to have.

And so here I sit on a plane back from Maui to Los Angeles, having distracted myself with work and another contortion of what can be called an empty nest trip, knowing that when I open the door and walk into my empty house I will hear and think and feel the lingering echo of the moment that the door shut. I will feel the silence and the emptiness, everywhere. In the hallways and the laundry room and the bedrooms that are always clean. So. Very. Clean.

Perhaps it hasn’t even happened yet, I think, hopeful that maybe that day wasn’t the last time the scent of my 18-year-old’s hair would play what feels like Vivaldi in my lungs and my heart. I inhaled deeply while we hugged goodbye, wanting that smell of Garnier Fructise to take up residence inside of me. But I know Spring Break is not meant for time at home, and the vaccine is here. And the children need to stop being children. It’s time to go. Get on with it.

An embrace from Kloey, 25, returning to her New York apartment and a boyfriend and a career.

A squeeze from Rayna, 22, flying to Chicago to see her boyfriend before she moves to New York too, to join her sister. Remote work. She is free. To move. To explore the world beyond the door. Then, Willow, off again to college, the last to go, her five-foot-ten frame wrapping itself around me just before I opened that door to say goodbye, leaving me feeling small. Loved on instead of the way it usually is, loved upon.

“Don’t go,” I want to say.

“Have fun,” I say, instead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marni Battista is the CEO and founder of Dating With Dignity. Her Institute of Living Courageously brand helps professional women create fulfilling intimate relationships and meaningful lives.