This Nest Feels a Little … Empty

emptynest
On Labour Day weekend we dropped our daughter, Emma, off at college in another province. Our eldest, Chris, lives here in town but shares a house with a bunch of friends, so while we still see him lots he hasn’t lived at home in nearly two years.

So we drove back home to a house that, only a few years ago, seemed almost too full. Now it mostly has just Jason and myself, and Gal, our dog.

You might remember that our old dog, Max, who grew up alongside our kids, passed away about a year ago. The decision to get another dog never seemed as smart as the day we drove back home from Nova Scotia and went into the house to find Gal there waiting for us.

All the cliches are true, as it turns out. How it seems like only a breath of time since they were both small, how the hours and days that passed so slowly at the time seem in retrospect to have flown by. How your heart permanently walks around outside your body, only now that heart is split in two and lives in two different places. 

Mostly, being an empty-nester is what I expected. I knew I would miss having the kids in the house: their presence, their conversation, their sense of humour. I especially miss the Emma of last year when she was a high-school senior, basically grown up and not needing a lot in the way of parenting, just hanging out with me and her dad like another adult in the house.

The things I don’t miss, the things I actually like about this stage of life, are also pretty much what I expected. I’ve never been the kind of mom whose whole identity was tied up in being a mom and “needed to be needed.” If anything, I’m a basically selfish person who loved my actual kids a lot but often found it hard to spend two decades with my life organized around the needs of other people. When the kids were younger I often had that “But when do I get time for meeeeee?” whine in my head. Now I have that time and yes, I do enjoy being able to plan and do things without having to take as many different people’s needs into account. I enjoy the time Jason and I get to spend together as a couple of adults.

One aspect of empty-nesting that I was completely prepared for, based on watching my own parents (especially my mom) was that even when the day-to-day care and feeding is done, the involvement and the worry never is. I hope I don’t take this to the level my mom did — when I was forty she was still perfectly capable of looking at me going out of the house and saying, “Is that all you’ve got on? It’s cold out, put on a hat!” But with an eighteen-year-old college student across the water and a twenty-year-old aspiring musician across town, I never feel entirely free from worry. I think about them and worry about their struggles approximately 120% of the time … and do what I can to help, but that’s very little compared to the days when I could put bandaids on their skinned knees and make it all better.

I think back to how I relied on “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” before my kids were born, and its sequels “What To Expect in the First Year” and “What to Expect in the Toddler Years.” I remember feeling bereft when Chris hit age 3 and I realized the What To Expect books had run out. Who would tell me what to expect? And why is there no “What To Expect When Your Kids Leave Home” book? Even though the first month has been pretty much how I thought it would be, I can’t shake the feeling this is uncharted territory and I’ll need a guide sometimes.

Oh well, maybe I’ll write that book. You know, in all that spare time I have now.

 

5 Replies to “This Nest Feels a Little … Empty”

  1. The part I found interesting was that when my son and daughter were away at university for months at a time, I didn’t worry about them. But when they came home for the summer, the first thing I would do when I woke up in the morning was go look out the window to see if the car had made it home. I wouldn’t peek in their bedrooms, but if the car was there I knew they were home safe.
    They never let me down.

  2. Came across your blog while searching for “toygatory” — my idea for a box where everything on the floor of our house after 8pm goes into. Going to need a bigger box, You are a talented writer and thank you for sharing your thoughts on parenting!

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