We dropped our youngest son off at college this week and our nest is officially empty. I’m proud to say that I wasn’t a blubbering mess at good-bye time. Misty-eyed, yes, but able to croak out the words I’d been advised to say by the wise women of the Satellite Sisterhood: You got this. I love you. Have fun.
Then my husband and I got in our rental car and we started what– A Second Honeymoon? The Next Phase? The Third Third? Okay, definitely not The Third Third because that’s kind of a downer, like a slow grind to the afterlife. And writer Ann Leary already covered the Second Honeymoon part so I don’t need to elaborate on that. (It sounds pretty good to me, though.) But definitely we’ve entered A New Phase, one where I have said aloud to my spouse of 23 years, “Wow, so this is it. We are going to have to spend a LOT of time together.” Fortunately, we both laughed after that observation.
I’ve spent a large part of my career writing, talking and thinking about my life in relationship to my children and being what I’ve always called a modern mother. Now, I’m looking forward to re-focusing my work on what I might call, being a modern grown-up. Someone with fewer day-to-day obligations, but much more on the agenda that qualifies as Big Picture.
As a Modern Grown-Up, here are a few things I can tell you about the empty nest so far:
- I’m glad I like my spouse. We’ve only gone through one weekend so far, but without the distractions of soccer games, robotics competitions, forcible community service and homework ‘encouragement,’ this 48 hours has seemed endless. Like, I really could take up basket weaving if I wanted to and still have plenty of time for doing the Sunday laundry. Now I understand why grown-ups play golf.
- I’m exhausted. I’ve been sleeping like a baby, maybe for the first time in 21 years, as if I’m making up for the collective lost zzz’s of two decades. The night after we dropped our son off, I could barely keep my eyes open at dinner. Last night went to bed at 8:15 on a Saturday night. That is just sad. And explains a lot about Early Bird Specials. I’m hoping the exhaustion gives way to energy at some point.
- It is killing me not to text my son at college. For years on Satellite Sisters, I have mocked the articles about this generation of parents over-communicating with this offspring at college. Texting 4 or 5 times a day or speaking daily on the phone or Skype?? Who does that? Leave the kid alone! My first son went to school nearby and lived with us for a couple of years, so I’d hear every day about his classes, his work, his friends. I enjoyed listening and it seemed like he enjoyed telling me. Now, my younger son is 1100 miles away and I have heard from him once in a week. I know that no news is probably good news. And I know he’s alive because this morning I got an email from Amazon Prime confirming his purchase of hot sauce. Yup, hot sauce—so I guess the food is a little bland at college. But I’m surprised at how much self-discipline it takes to leave him alone.
- I’m glad I have friends in the same boat. I’m going to need them to kill the hours between 4 and 6pm, the time when I used to take up my position in the kitchen, doling out snacks, making dinner and asking my boys, “How was your day?” Maybe we’d watch an episode of The Simpsons or discuss the news. There was always food and laughter. That’s a good chunk of time to kill by myself and now I can spend it with friends who also want out of the house because the silence is deafening.
- I bought a tub of yogurt, some wine and a few apples at the grocery store. And that’s it. I know at some point I will have to cook real food and stop eating out. My friends have warned me about the ‘freshman 15’ that parents put on because, all of a sudden, they are going out to dinner more and cooking at home less. But so far, I’ve enjoyed a break from the kitchen. And from schlepping in the cases of La Croix my sons went through.
- I will never organize the family pictures. Or clean the closets. Or do any of those things I swore I would do when I had time. Because, the truth is, I don’t really care if the photos are in shoe boxes. I like looking at them like that. And a messy closet never hurt anyone. I may do other self-improvement tasks that I actually want to do: walk more, take a literature class at a local college, go to more movies on weekend afternoons, take up vegetable gardening. But I’m not going to organize those photos.
- I’m feeling enthusiastic about my work. For 21 years. I have worked around my children’s schedules. I worked early, early mornings and late at night to leave afternoons and evenings open. I worked on weekends while my husband covered the kids. I said no to opportunities because of time away from home. I turned down work that involved extensive travel. That was my choice and I don’t regret it for a second. I created a flexible worklife because that worked for our family, as my husband has an inflexible worklife. But now, my Google calendar is my own. I’m excited about that.
- I’m feeling grateful. Been doing a lot of that lately. I know that a lot parents have kids who will never leave the nest for one reason or another. Or for some families, college is out of reach or just not part of the plans. Others have kids who’ve decided to serve in the military and that is a whole other level of worry and sleepless nights. But I’m grateful that my boys are starting the next phase of their lives and my husband and I get to do the same.
Is your nest empty? What lessons have you learned? Best part? Hardest part?
Thanks for the support, Lian
More From Lian on the Empty Nest