Denise Day Spencer

August 20, 2006

He’s gone

Filed under: Home Front — denisedayspencer @ 3:09 am

Well, it’s official. Our nest is now empty. We took Clay to the University of Kentucky yesterday.

The day did not start well for me. Oh, I went for my morning walk and it was nice, as always. But afterward, when I sat on my back porch and prayed for my son, I burst into tears. I thought of how empty the house would seem when we returned from our trip that evening…and the next day…and the next. I realized that for the past 21 years I’d had at least one child living at home. Suddenly, life, as I knew it, was coming to an abrupt end. Maybe that’s why Grandma checked out when she did. We had always known she dreaded daily life without Clay.

It’s rather odd, really, when you think about it. Clay had always been one of those kids who spends most of his time in his room. Especially since Noel went to college, he had lived a rather solitary existence–spending time on his computer, watching movies, playing video games. And of course, much of the time he was gone. Choir trips. BCM and SGA meetings. Playing late-night ping-pong with friends.

But when he was home, I could always hear the music coming from his room. And there were still the family suppers every night, where we would laugh together at each other’s stories and events of the day. Clay kept me involved in his world, too. Nearly every day he would call me into his room. “Mom, listen to this.” And he’d play me a tune. “Mom, watch this. You’ll love it!” Then he would play me a video clip or a comedy routine, or show me a “Strongbad” e-mail. And we would laugh together. Always the laughter. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most.

All in all, yesterday was a good day. We were amazed at the efficiency of the U.K. housing staff. They had converted a courtyard into a temporary parking/unloading zone. We backed our truck up to a long table and the staff helped us stack all of Clay’s worldly belongings on, under and around said table. As soon any table cleared, my favorite staff guy yelled, “I need a ve-hicle!” and another car, truck or van would be ushered into place. There was free bottled water. There were carts for toting luggage, and friendly staff to sign the kids into the dorms. Baptist Campus Ministry students assisted people in carrying bags and boxes. Everyone was helpful. Everyone was smiling.  The weather even cooperated. Partly sunny, partly cloudy, with a genuinely cool breeze coming along just when we needed it.

Yet it all took time. A long time. I waited in a long line to borrow one of the carts. I waited with the remainder of Clay’s stuff while he and Michael stood in an even longer line just to get into the dorm and onto the elevator. You see, Clay’s living in Kirwan Tower. I don’t know how many floors it has, but it’s tall. People don’t use the stairs when they move into Kirwan Tower.

As I stood there next to our table, the sun reappeared from behind a cloud and began to bear down on me. Sweat started to trickle down my front and my back. My water bottle was almost empty. Michael and Clay had been gone a long time. Surely they should be back by now, shouldn’t they? I found a spot near our table where I could sit in the shade and lean back against a post. I sat there ’til I got ants in my pants. (And I was wearing a skirt, if that tells you anything.) One of the housing staff came along with a camera and asked if he could take my picture. I didn’t care what for. “Sure,” I said with a wan smile. He clicked. So be looking for me in the “Bedraggled Parents” section of the next U.K. publication. “This is great,” I thought. “Worried about the empty nest? Just be sure your kid signs up to live in the tallest tower of the biggest state university there is. By the time you’ve finished moving him in, you won’t care if you ever see him again!”

But of course I did care. We finally completed the move and took Clay out for one last family dinner. Then a trip to Walmart to get him stocked up on school supplies and snack food. At last, back to the dorm. It was just like it was when I said my “goodbye” to Noel three years ago. I did fine until the last hug, and then I broke down. Clay held me and patted me rather aimlessly, as men who hold crying women do. I managed to pull myself together enough to tell him that I loved him and that I was so very proud of him.

And then we drove away…as Clay began to trudge down that long sidewalk toward that huge dorm on that enormous campus with his shopping bags in his hands. There were people all around, yet he looked so alone. I realized we still hadn’t met his roommate. And I hadn’t helped him make his bed or settle into his room. He didn’t yet have his meal card. Where would he get it? When would he get it? Despite the small wad of cash we had left him, would he go hungry until then? There seemed to be far too many loose ends, but Michael assured me he would be O.K.

I spent most of today at the print shop. Oh, sure, I told Michael and myself that I needed to make up some work after being gone most of the day yesterday. But I think the truth of the matter was that I didn’t want to be here in the empty house all day. So I cried at the print shop instead of at the house. Small difference.

And yet I’m terribly excited for Clay, because I remember what an exciting time college was for me. I know how much of an adventure it will be, and how much he will grow and learn and change. I can’t wait to get his phone calls, e-mails and instant messages telling of all his experiences.

I’m considerably less enthused about my life right now. People keep telling me how much fun the empty nest can be once you get used to it. But most admit it can sure take some getting used to. Oh, it’s not at all hard to keep busy at OBI. And my life is good; I am way more blessed than I deserve. But I will miss my son. (I still miss my daughter!) There will be more tears, and that’s O.K. The empty nest may eventually be a blast. But right now I’m content to wait for the fun to start.



  1. […] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. 🙂 Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. […]

    Pingback by The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive » Denise’s account — August 20, 2006 @ 3:19 am | Reply

  2. […] UPDATE: Denise’s post of this weekend’s events. […]

    Pingback by » Blog Archive » As the last child walks away: Clarity at the Crossroads of Life — August 20, 2006 @ 3:21 am | Reply

  3. You and Carla Rolfe have a talented way with words when relating these life events. iMonk should be jealous. (Hope he doesn’t mind the comparison!)

    Comment by Robert K. — August 20, 2006 @ 8:02 am | Reply

  4. Very teary as I read this. All three of our kids moved out permanently within 6 months of one another. The last 6 months ago now. I think we’re still a bit shell shocked at times. The thought that went through my head the most often (and still does) was: “That’s it?” Such an abrupt end to active parenting. Yes, we do enjoy having the house to ourselves and the energy to enjoy one another that parenting can zap from you. But the noise and bustle and life that kids bring to a home. I still miss it.

    Comment by Hope — August 20, 2006 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  5. Well, my daughter, now you know how your mother and I felt driving home from Murray those many years ago when you went off to school. I could hardly drive for the tears as I could hardly read for the tears just a few minutes ago. As we drove in the light of a full moon the thought struck me that from then on, when you came home it would always be just a visit. But over the years we’ve enjoyed those visits. First, just you and then there was Michael and then Noel and then all four of you. Now it’s your turn. The wheel turns.

    Comment by Dad — August 23, 2006 @ 3:04 am | Reply

  6. […] We have just returned form our vacation, having spent most of it this year getting to know the city of Calgary where our daughter will begin university next week (Michael and Denise, I feel your pain!). […]

    Pingback by The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive » Back from Vac. — August 31, 2006 @ 11:06 pm | Reply

  7. […] Denise wrote this one when Clay left for College: He’s Gone. […]

    Pingback by The Boar’s Head Tavern » When our empty nest arrived — August 11, 2007 @ 8:31 am | Reply

  8. […] Denise wrote this one when Clay left for College: He’s Gone. […]

    Pingback by » Blog Archive » Devotional Resources for Your iPod + Writing For The Empty Nest — August 11, 2007 @ 8:33 am | Reply

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