Lara Blair Photography

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For my empty nesting friends - Washington and Oregon portrait photographer

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My morning leading up to getting on the plane consisted of kissing my gap-year-bound kid on the forehead as she slept and a 20 minute conversation as I walked to my gate with my oldest who is adjusting to a difficult 2nd year schedule at college. I was holding it together…doing the usual people-watching and readjustment of my carry-on bag. I was even checking the status of my soon-to-be conference cohorts on our Facebook page. I was feeling a little nervous about being a first timer at this conference mixed with excitement to be back in the game of photography. I was even trying to mentally check out with an Alaska magazine and steaming cup of Starbucks.

I didn’t see it coming.

I was blindsided by turtles. Stupid, cute baby sea turtles trying to leave the beach and head out into the vast ocean.

It was a small article (easily missed by most page-flipping travelers), yet this story jumped out at me like a neon sign. The excerpt that burned into my retinas was:  “The turtles intuitively charge toward the ocean with equal parts fearlessness and innocence. Knee high waves crash on the shore and toss the little reptiles, but when the waves recede, the tussled turtles, undaunted, turn and charge again and again until they are in the water paddling furiously, clear and free, on their way.”

The hot, tingly nose thing you get when the tears are coming took over and I hid in my hair, head down, seemingly engrossed in the feature article of Alaska magazine. 

It happens like that sometimes. 

You’re cruising along, all “conferences are fun” and “I should make a to-do list for when I get back” and BAM. I’m on the train to Worry Land and a dramatic flashback movie of every day of my children’s lives plays until the credits roll. I don’t know if I come across as unfeeling or unconcerned to my kids, but I am feeling it in spades as we get closer to two empty rooms at the top of the stairs. In my moment of Seat 15C grief, I ponder the timing of this conference. Is it good that I’m not watching my daughter compile her life into a mid-size backpack only to recount (probably out loud) every near-emergency I had while traveling as a teen? Or am I completely negligent for not going through the packing prep by her side? I’m not really sure at this point and the hot steak of tears outs me to my seat mates. There is no conversation, but I can feel the pulse of empathy through the armrest.

This is what they (whoever “they” are) were talking about. The hybrid emotion of relief and excitement and grief and heaviness of empty nesting. It’s the most complicated state yet in this Tilt-a-Whirl we call parenting. I have no idea how to address or avoid it, so I just sit in this dense melancholia sprinkled with anxiety…for the rest of the 1,000 miles on my flight. I realize all these feelings will be dealt with when I’m ready, but I think the most important to-do list item is to hash them out…friend…spouse…therapist. “Stuffing” has never served me well and “stuffing” when it comes to major life transitions is landmine territory. 

So, like the turtles, I also, will thrash against the waves until I am on my way. 

If my kids can do it, I can too.

* * * * * *

(After I got home from the conference, put my kid on a plane and began worrying about both of my girls, I can honestly say the pain is real. I didn’t expect it to be this intense, but I suppose many parents before me have survived…I will too. I’ve got big dreams and plans and I need to model for them that all stages of life can bring amazing rewards with hard work.) xo

Lara Blair