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The View from the Empty Nest

June 23, 2015

UnknownFollowing my own suggestions, I’ve been thinking about how to explain the emotions that result from the empty nest. At risk of oversimplifying, I would borrow the Facebook relationship status and say, “It’s complicated.” My three grown children live in three different Southern states–none of them in this one. That’s what happens when you let them go off to college: they don’t come back.

On the bright side, none of the three is living upstairs, surfing the net for jobs. They are all three independent, just as we hoped they would be at this stage of life–28, 33, and 35. On the other hand, we celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day with phone calls and a card, even a package through the mail.

When my children were small, I remember friends who expressed dread at their children growing beyond the “baby stage.” By contrast, I always loved and welcomed each stage. Certainly, once a child realizes walking is not merely a party trick but a means of transportation, everything changes around the house; however, after the frustration preceding walking (and later, driving), these first steps are reason to celebrate.  Laura, my oldest, walked before nine months; Ben, the baby, waited until his first birthday. This may not have been as much about delayed development as about his being carried around by Laura and John.  How can a child learn to walk when his feet never touch the floor? Why learn to talk when you can go, “Unhhh. Unhh,” and have your own personal translator on hand? (“Mama, he wants. . .  .)

These days though, we can pick our own television channels and blast the music we like without criticism or complaint. We dine on whatever the two of us choose at whatever time suits us. We are decades past ball games and practices, late night homework and last minutes school projects. (“Mom, I think we need to get some poster board. Tonight.”)

Although Laura left home for college and didn’t return, the boys both have rooms of their own in this house. They spend at most a few days a year in them, but the belongings they ‘ve left behind serve as placeholders. Both boys have left behind clothes, yearbooks, various inoperable computer and stereo components, books, magazines, and more. In the attic, I have boxes devoted to each child where I add photographs, school souvenirs, school certificates, and funny cards.

For weeks after Ben, the youngest, left home to work in Florida, his first job as a college graduate, I could hear the phantom clicks of his dog Jack’s toenails, even though the dog had been put to sleep just days before after suffering with heart failure. I didn’t think I even liked the dog (who ate my door facing every time a rain storm blew in when we were away), but I felt bittersweet nonetheless.

I might kid the children, claiming that I miss most their technical troubleshooting skills, but honestly, we have our cell phones, so they still have to respond whenever I forget how to play a DVD or to figure out some other computer-related challenge. I figure it’s the least they can do after all the homework help–or even the labor pains.  I keep a long list.

These days, we can go to dinner without a sitter, go on vacation without making arrangements at the kennel.  We can be as noisy as the two of us will allow. We can be silent without arousing concern. We can turn up a Chicago concert playing on the TV, blasting it through the Bose speakers, without anyone complaining, “Mommmmm!” Would I trade the independence to have them all living in town with me? You’d better believe I would.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Debboe permalink
    June 24, 2015 12:58 am

    Maybe you will be near some your children & grandchildren soon one day. 🙂 Well said.

  2. kathy permalink
    June 25, 2015 11:24 am

    This one really hitting home, as I have an only child who didn’t walk until 15 months because I never put him down. Now at 21 he’s just finished junior year at college. I could fill pages and pages with the “empty nest” feelings ….. maybe I will.

  3. sandyyoung75 permalink
    June 25, 2015 1:09 pm

    Please do, Kathy! I’d love to hear about this precious boy that my friend Ethel has talked about for 21 years. My empty nest is a bit different from both yours and Nancy’s. Maybe I’ll write about it!

  4. June 29, 2015 1:50 pm

    Kathy, where is he attending college? I’m amazed too that your friend lives in Newton (which is, essentially, Hickory!) We will certainly get together at least briefly. If Sandy voices for you, you have to be a keeper!

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