Herald and Journal, Jan. 31, 2000

Still in search of the lost baby


I guess I have to face the facts. I am suffering the effects of ENS.

To those of you who still have children in the home, and can't wait for them to move out, this malady will seem foreign to you. To those of you who have experienced ENS, you will understand what I am about to write.

Empty nest syndrome first gripped me just before Thanksgiving 1999. I realized a week or so before the big dinner that this would be my first major holiday in 31 years of motherhood without any of my children in attendance.

Luckily, the dinner was being put on by my sister, Penny. It would have been difficult for me to serve a Thanksgiving dinner with no children there to enjoy it. As you may, or may not, know Tom and I have six children. I am used to being surrounded by a crowd at these family get-togethers.

Three of our six children are married. Because we have to be fair, and share our kids and grandkids with the in-laws, these three are not always with us for holidays. They spend alternating holidays with their in-laws.

But I could count on the other three kids, couldn't I? No, Jason had to work. He couldn't pass up the Thanksgiving brunch tips at the Hilton Hotel where he works.

Lisa was about to graduate from college in Madison, Wis., and had only one day off from the two jobs she was working. It just wouldn't pay to drive five hours to get home for one day, and then turn around and go back. Sure, I understand.

And the youngest of the bunch? She had decided to celebrate her 20th birthday by flying to England to visit her boyfriend. I guess a turkey dinner can't compete with true love.

So, there Tom and I sat on the couch that afternoon at Dave and Penny's, suffering from overeating, as usual. But there was another feeling, too. It was kind of an otherworldly feeling, looking around and seeing no Fink kids.

I could almost hear the sounds of the Twilight Zone theme, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na.

The food was delicious and we had a nice visit, so what's the big deal, right?

Then, Jessica returned from England and announced that she was going to move to Minneapolis to live with her brother, Jason. Living downtown, she could save money on the commute. She was working two jobs downtown, so why not live there and take the bus? Because of my heart palpitations, that's why.

We survived her move to the city. I say we, but Tom is much more calm about these things than I am. That's okay, I worry enough for both of us.

Lisa calls me "Psycho Mom." She says I worry too much about my kids. It's hard to break old habits, though.

Lisa and Jesy are the youngest, and three years apart. The oldest three went off to college after they graduated. Each time one of them left, I had what I call "The Lost Baby Dream." I am sure this was brought on by my state of mind over each child leaving home.

Sara was the first to graduate. When she left, I started having a recurring dream about a lost baby. In this dream, I know I have a baby somewhere, but I can't find it. I have this overwhelming feeling that I have to find the baby and take care of it or the baby will die. I am searching and searching for the baby, all the time worrying that I won't find the baby in time.

Each time I had this dream, I woke up and felt so relieved that I was just dreaming. I didn't have the dream every night, just occasionally. After a few weeks, I stopped dreaming about the lost baby. I suppose I had come to terms with her leaving home.

Then, I had the dream again when Jason and Gina left home. They graduated the same year and left for school in the fall. The "Lost Baby Dream" was really working overtime then. Again, after a few, weeks I stopped having the dream.

Of course, the baby dream came out of mothballs again when Maria and Lisa each took their turns leaving the nest. Maybe Lisa has something there with that psycho-mom thing.

When Jesy moved to Jason's house for a month, I was sure the dream would find me again. Not so. Maybe it was because I could hardly sleep at night worrying about her.

About two weeks ago, she left for England again. This time, she will be gone for five months. As you might expect, I took it well.

I planned a few hours away from work to take Jesy to the airport. I wanted to spend time with her before her flight took off. I was doing well. I was playing it cool. I had it all under control, you see. No lost babies for me this time.

So it had snowed a little in Minneapolis and a lot more in Chicago. Her flight was cancelled, and then delayed, but I kept it together. I didn't cry or make a scene at the airport. I had it all together.

But, when I sat down that night and took off my boots, I realized that I hadn't been as together that day as I had thought. Looking down at my feet, I noticed that I was wearing mismatched socks. One was black with a white squiggle pattern on it. The other was black with white and tan flowers embroidered on it.

Have I been searching for lost babies in my sleep? Thankfully, no. And the missing socks? Well, I haven't found them yet either.

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