When farewells were final ones


A MALADY is sweeping the country. President and Hillary Clinton are suffering through another year of it; my cousins are experiencing its first signs and many of our friends and neighbors have not gotten over it yet. People begin to fear the disease from June until August when it finally becomes full blown. The diagnosis: "Empty Nest Syndrome." an illness that preys on parents of college-bound children.

To me, a mother who has seen three of her children fly the coop with nary a worry or regret, the behavior of the "empty nesters" is a complete mystery.

When my oldest child left for college, the whole family celebrated. Joyfully, I accepted his newly found independence as another rite of passage, not to mention the reduction of my work load at home. His sister was thrilled not to have to share the car with her older sibling and his middle brother cheered as he took possession of his empty bedroom and his after school part-time job.

Our youngest boy, delighted to also have a room of his own, joined in the festivities.

A year later, it was my daughter's turn. A true independent spirit, she did not even wait for September. We helped her pack her belongings and drove her to her summer job at the college. I had not lost my only daughter - but I had gained a room with many closets. For the first time in years I did not have to fear the disappearance of my favorite clothes, and my makeup and jewelry remained where they were left. I shed a few tears, but only about our ever-increasing debts.

When the third child left, I rediscovered the telephone, found out that we owned two cars with full tanks of gas and gave up my job as a home referee. Only one unsolved problem remained unresolved: The long line of creditors knocking on our door.

I developed my immunity to the "Empty Nest Syndrome" early in life, listening to the tales of my family's woes while sitting on my parents' knees. My mother, a child of immigrants, and my father, an immigrant himself, labored to give my brother and me the material things they never had. They succeeded in their attempt with only a fourth-grade education, their street smarts and a shared dream of a better life for their children. They did not dare imagine that one day we would become the next generation of wandering Jews.

My brother and I did not endure as many hardships, but still we had to adjust to a different culture and language when we moved from Cuba to the United States.

My Turkish grandparents emigrated to Cuba as a young married couple. They followed their siblings' earlier journey toward prosperity, only to find more poverty. Their abundance of hope for my mother and her sister, however, more than made up for their lack of financial means.

My Polish grandparents sent their eight children, one by one, to unknown parts of the world. With very little money and a lack of formal education, they set off to pursue adventure and fortune. The knowledge of only one tongue, the Yiddish dialect, was not a deterrent to any of them. My father, one of their sons, traveled to the United States, to Cuba, and back to the United States. He acquired a trade, learned two languages and supported himself.

In contrast, my own three children left home with the support of my husband and me. We provided for all of their needs, a helping hand only a telephone call away. Although away from home, they were fully protected under our parental umbrella.

My ancestors experienced calamities that neither my children nor I can ever imagine. When my grandparents said good-bye to their offspring they knew deep in their hearts that it was a final farewell. "How were you able to get through the agony of parting?" I quietly ask the two lonely figures in the old photograph on my mantel. With broken hearts, their sad eyes respond. No doubt they know the most precious gifts in life come in tough-to-open packages; the agony in unwrapping them is the price we must pay to reach their valuable content. The pride in their wrinkled faces completes their answer.

Raquel Slabinski-Leib writes from Norwalk, Conn.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.