Behind closed doors in an anonymous meeting, I imagine myself standing up and saying, "Hello, my name is Kathy."
"Hi, Kathy!" The Parents reply.
"I am forty-eight years old and I am an empty-nester. I would like to confess."
The Parents nod their heads knowingly.
"Here is my story, " I begin...
A year ago my last child was home for her senior year in high school and my middle child had returned for a semester from college to regroup before heading into his junior year. My eldest child had graduated from college and had just launched herself into full-fledged adulthood with a "real" job/career as a labor and delivery nurse across the country. She had managed to come home to be in a wedding, for holidays and the reality was that I felt I was seeing her more than when she was in college and always studying for the next exam.
With each day's passing the countdown to being a "real" empty-nester (ALL three children gone), I would feel pangs in my parental mommy heart. I'd get teary-eyed when I thought of them leaving. Sometimes I would actually cry, albeit slyly so they couldn't see me. And in the car alone, I cried openly...sometimes quite loudly giving way to gut-wrenching sobs. With each last Back-to-School Night, rally, homecoming, senior portrait, senior ball, Powder Puff football game or event from her senior year, I mourned the ending of an era. That is, the era of my children being children. I knew they were all on the cusp of adulthood and flying the coop.
Sometimes the transition period has been rough. Sometimes biting words were exchanged or assertive or aggressive actions as they began to spread their wings, just a little. The result sometimes ruffled MY feathers. One mom, in her wisdom, likened it to birds who mess up the nest to the point of being pushed out by the mamas. Quite simply, it's nature's way of allowing birds (parents) to let go. I could give you specific examples of their nastiness, or mine, but it's something I choose to forget.
This summer I really did relish the time I had with the two of my children still home. My middle child was working a ton of hours at his job at a local grocery store and had begun to sleep at this dad and stepmom's house....with visits to mine. This was a difficult transition for me. I had gotten used to him being with me during the fall, sent him back to school for the spring semester and then welcomed him home, excited for this time together again. I am not a "helicopter" (hovering) parent by nature. But I did. Hover. A lot.
But then his dad and I agreed it was time for another approach, thus the full-time living at his dad's house. When my child came over to "visit" I tried to contain the happiness I felt by faking a cool detached approach. That is not easy for me...as witnessed by the hundreds of photos of me over the years earning the nickname of "Smiley." The time spent with my son was disappointingly spartan this summer. I felt short-changed. I struggled with wanting to support his independence which he was earning back by his actions, while also "missing" him. I felt like we had made great gains in our relationship, though we'd always been close. In the fall I got a glimpse into the inner workings of his head and now saw that opening was closing shut (again, as this had happened during puberty). In my heart I knew that is typical of almost-adults to pull back but there was also a part of me that felt I had earned the right for "it" (our relationship) to be different. Maybe so. Maybe not. Thus when he went to school at the end of summer I experienced torn emotions.
With each text or phone call response, or especially the ones initiated by him (and not involving money) my concerns wash a little further away on the shores of parenthood. He's busy. He has a job. School. Prepping for his lacrosse season. Speech and debate. College. Life. I'm learning (again) to let go. And learning (anew) the right balance of support and (hopefully) projecting the belief that I believe in him. Because I do. I really really do. I love that man who was formally known as my boy.
With my youngest we had enjoyed a love/hate summer relationship. We loved being together, hated the idea of being apart. We loved one another but began to bicker for the first time. I think we were both feeling a wee bit anxious about the impending separation and sometimes sabotaged our time together with silly quarrels that even we realized were a by-product.
On the last night together after we had moved her into her dorm room, we walked her back to her dorm. I had my arm draped over her shoulders as she had silent tears slipping down her cheeks. Oddly I felt pride like a peacock, I knew my baby chick was ready, even if she was unsure. She hugged and kissed me good-bye. She did the same with her stepmom, followed by her dad. I cried, "Family hug!"
and her dad, stepmom and I embraced in a circle around her, all hugging tightly. She continued to weep a little and turned to walk toward the front glass entrance.
Her father turned and snapped a photo of her walking away. He then crept behind her, bending over and squinting up at her as she walked up to her top floor via the stairwell. He walked back to us. And we looked at him questingly. "She's going to be fine," he said. "I looked at her face and she quit crying."
I knew then that she would be. And I already was. I got in my car, turned up the music and drove to a nearby girlfriend's house to spend the night. I had a giant grin on my face. I felt hopeful and confident for both she and my son's new beginning.
On Facebook I had friends send their condolences at the loss of my children leaving the nest. I had a few family members email or phone to check-in. I received inquires asking if I had bawled as I drove away that night, leaving my last child off to start her college journey.
At home, I had planned activities for myself; biking, swimming, going out for dinner and dating. I cleaned my house. I cleared out my garage, kitchen cupboards, medicine cabinets and closets. I completed my Halloween costume and hung newly purchased stunning decorations, in SEPTEMBER. I had everything ready for my upcoming bike tour: new bike, saddlebags and airplane ticket, in MARCH. I planned a kick-off party for this weekend for the Ironman Tahoe Triathlon I will be participating in on September 22nd, a YEAR from now.
I feel I am in this new creative phase which will include the Ironman training, possibly writing "that book" that I've been putting off, launching a dating business, or grad school or something else. I am ready to spread MY wings too.
I've come to realize I have begun to settle-in. I'm clearing the debris. I'm reorganizing, prioritizing and evaluating what really matters (again) in my life.
Am I said? No. The truth is, I sometimes want to join in with the other empty-nester parents by high-fiving ourselves and begin the "Happy Dance." I will admit, it's different than I thought. For the first time I am really really alone. But not. I mean, there is only one person living in my house, me, myself and I. But I have this big, gigantic circle of family: mom, sisters, brother, brother-in-laws, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews and my children. I have my girlfriends (you know, the "other" sisters that we all embrace). I have friends in my race club, my co-workers, friends that are parents of my children's friends through soccer, lacrosse, schools and more. I have old childhood swim and school friends, I have new running friends, my writing group whom I don't see often enough, and the ever-widening circle... I also realize the upcoming fall months, faced alone, might prove to be a bit of a challenge. But I've got my piles of books, the drawer filled with movies to watch, dinners to catch-up with friends, and my swimming, biking and running. And the writing I hope to do. And that special someone that will be entering into my life.
I conclude my story with "My name is Kathy. My kids have left home. I admit that I like being an empty-nester."My expression is tentative as I look up at The Parents in our Empty-Nester Meeting.
The Parents return my expression.
With a smile.
The Parents understand.