The Pangs of “Pre-Nostalgia:” New Word, Familiar Feelings

My heart is bursting with everything I anticipate feeling a year from now when my first-born heads to college.

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Has someone in your family just graduated or is about to graduate from high school? If so, you’re probably experiencing an intense mix of emotions – pride, sadness, relief, excitement, and, perhaps most of all, a deep sense of nostalgia about how quickly your baby has turned into a young adult.

My heart is brimming with all these feelings, and –

Hold on a minute.

Neither of my kids is graduating this year. How can I already be nostalgic?

I’m not. I’m pre-nostalgic, which is nostalgia’s pesky, overly eager cousin.

Being pre-nostalgic means my heart is bursting with everything I anticipate feeling a year from now when, presumably, my first-born will triumphantly toss his mortarboard into the air before leaving for college. (Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with the term “pre-nostalgic.” That credit goes to my friends Liz and Paul. Liz and Paul’s oldest child is still several years from high school graduation, so I’d say these precocious parents are experiencing pre-pre-nostalgia. Folks, it’s never too early to start feeling your feelings!)

So, yes, I’m definitely pre-nostalgic about Son One leaving home over a year from now. (Occasionally, I dip my toe in the pre-pre-nostalgic waters about Son Two.) Here’s a day in the life of me, a genuine pre-nostalgic parent.

6:30 a.m. I wake up to the smell of Son One’s bread in the toaster oven. I inhale and then haul myself out of bed to greet my boy in the kitchen. Pre-nostalgic pang: My alarm clock will never match the delightful wake-up-scent of Son One making his breakfast.

12:00 p.m. I often text my lad during the school day to remind him about a dentist appointment or find out if he needs more sliced turkey for lunch. Sometimes I’ll get texts from him like, “Am I free on Saturday night?” Pre-nostalgic pang: One day soon, my boy will be on his own when it comes to dental hygiene and sandwich fixings. And I’ll have no idea what his plans are for Saturday night.

4:00 p.m. When my kids straggle in from school, I’m almost always working in my downstairs office. Their noisy arrival is a delightful interruption to my otherwise quiet, solitary work day. They take turns settling into the couch in my office to complain about the lack of snacks and tell me a little bit about their day. Pre-nostalgic pang: Without my boys, will every afternoon feel endless?

6:30 p.m. If Son One is out for the evening, I’ll play a little trick on myself and imagine he’s already living away from home. So, I set the table for three and try not to overwhelm Son Two with my undivided parental attention. Pre-nostalgic pang: If Son Two is also out, I wonder what it will be like to cook every night for two middle-aged adults with dwindling metabolisms. Soft-boiled eggs and toast?

9:30 p.m. When I’m in bed winding down with a book, Son One will sometimes wander in to say goodnight. While I’d love him to tell me all his deepest thoughts and feelings, the conversation is more likely to be about the funny cat video he just watched or how he’s already stoked for next year’s ski season. No matter the topic, every chat is precious. So is every “What do you think?” and “Will you help?” Pre-nostalgic pang: Occasionally, in addition to conversation, I get a goodnight hug. I’m already missing – and craving — that warm embrace.

Deep down, I know my pre-nostalgia is a perfectly natural process of separating from my increasingly independent kid. After all, he started separating from me back in middle school with some totally typical displays of surliness. During those rough patches, I’d mentally leapfrog to the day he’d leave for college – and leave us, his frustrated parents, in peace.

Ironic, I know.

Maybe pre-nostalgia is the perfect strategy for letting me practice missing my child so actually missing him is a little less intense. I like that idea. But since I currently get choked up over toast, I doubt anything will dull my sadness when Son One eventually heads off for a new adventure. When it finally happens, I’ll also be feeling pride, relief, and excitement. Like every parent before me, I’ll be left wiping away the tears and wondering how my precious baby turned into a remarkable young adult in just the blink of an eye.

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