For publication August 24, 2006
My sister’s youngest son went off to college this week. She seems sad, but accepting. I don’t think she realizes the impact yet, but maybe she does. She has a job that has been building responsibility in the last few years. Today, she’s in San Antonio; tomorrow, Florida; next week, Southern California; all the while she calls New Jersey home. In the beginning, she hated all the travel, but she’s grown accustomed to it somehow and it sounds like she is enjoying it and her life, without the kids around.
This has made me think about the many varieties of empty nests and the fact that you might have to grow into them, just like everything else in life. Every other weekend, I live an empty nest life while my kids live with their father. It still takes some adjusting each time for me. You would think after all these years, I’d be used to it, but my separation anxiety waxes and wanes significantly. Some weeks, those difficult ones with many deadlines (mine and theirs), too many activities and frayed nerves, that first night is joyful, bursting with a “What should I do next?” type of anticipation. Other weeks, the weeks we all get along, the weeks we’ve had lots of fun and connections, the weeks when deadline pressure hasn’t made me a bear to live with, I dread the first night alone and the ensuing days of empty nest. Those weekends I suspend time and go into a sort of denial. Not much gets done around the house and I usually spend the hours at the computer catching up on work, going out with friends and watching TV. Regardless of my feelings when they depart, I am always happy and grateful when my girls return. Although my time with them is divided, I believe my main purpose at this time in my life is “Mom.”
Parenthood, like childhood, is fleeting. The first phase of parenthood, the in-the-trenches, changing diapers, feeding and caring for tiny ones, is ridiculously short when you look back on it. There is an old saying that goes “the days are long, but the years go fast,” or something like that. The first time I gave birth, I had twins. They were beautiful and relatively easy babies. It was just double the work. My father, always wise and always a pain in the neck, would reply any time I had a moan with this reality check: “It could always be worse. You could have triplets.”
My oldest girls entered junior high this week and their sister started fourth grade. How did that happen? It’s a case of those lightning-fast years going by. Some days, I can see the time flying by faster than ever before, while others, I am still in the thick of the laundry and the responsibilities and the kid stuff. Recently, I complained to my 76-year-old father, who is experiencing the next level of empty nest with both my Mom and all of his kids gone, about the mess my kids were making. I said that I felt like I was following the destructive paths of three tornados and whined a bit about the trouble I had getting them to come back and clean up the damage.
“Just remember,” he replied, always my Dad, always wise and really annoying, “it won’t be too long until they’ll be gone and you will miss the mess.” I had to laugh and snap out of it. You’re so right, Pop. Sometimes I already do.