“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big. To them, all of it has always been big stuff.” Catherine M. Wallace
Filling My Nest
Empty Nest. Two simple words that bring about a sense of trepidation or a spirit of triumph. For me, it is a little of both.
Just this week my husband and I dropped off our daughter Kristen back at college for her sophomore year. I thought maybe this time it would be easier than last year, but no such luck. It pained us not being able to give her a hug and kiss goodbye before we left because she’s in sorority work week “lock down,” and I cried the minute I walked in the house and saw her pile of dirty clothes. I miss her already. Who am I going to get pedis with? Who will I watch late night TV with? Who will I laugh with? Who, am I?
I think part of the pain is that I feel I only had her home for a very short time. I was so excited for her come home for the summer and then, poof, she was gone again. Last year I’d had her home for 18 years prior. This year it seemed like 18 hours. On top of that, for the first time in my life, I feel like maybe I need her now more than she needs me. Ouch.
Kristen is literally living her dream: attending her “dream” school and my alma mater Oklahoma, and loving life. She is thriving, happy, and calls me almost every day. I’ve also learned to Skype! Our only daughter is doing what my husband and I hoped she would: go to college, learn and grow, meet new people, and become a successful contributor to society and the world as a whole. You’d think I’d be jumping for joy. In a sense, I am, but still my heart aches.
It seems like just yesterday a friend told me “hang on tight because high school flies by,” as Kristen trotted of to high school. I thought to myself, “how can it fly by…it’s FOUR years?!” Well, I’m here to tell you, they not only flew by, they flew at lightning speed, as did her first year of college!
As many before me know, sending your baby off to college isn’t easy. Satisfying, yes. Easy, no. Oh, some say they couldn’t wait to do “me” things and have “couple time,” but in their heart of hearts they have to admit those very hearts, just like mine, hurt even if ever so slightly.
I distinctly remember Kristen dancing to the “Monday Night Football” theme song at 3, jumping horses at 9, and becoming her school’s sports director at 17. She grew into my buddy and now she’s grown into a young lady who is at a familiar yet far away place meeting friends I don’t know and going to places it seems like just yesterday I was frequenting. The house is quiet. Her friends aren’t coming and going, playing loud music, and invading my pantry. The house, feels empty
There is a silver lining though. I don’t cringe every time I hear a siren and am not up at midnight waiting for the front door to open. Instead of my calendar having her activities and dates penciled in, my days are filled with my life! I get to set new priorities. I reflect on my past and my future. It’s both bittersweet and liberating. It is a chance to, in a sense, start anew, even though I loved what I was doing before. I now have time to attempt and accomplish things I haven’t. This blog is something I’ve thought about trying for a long time, and now I’m doing it! Yay me!!!! I’m also volunteering and reading more. My husband and I immediately took advantage of little couple get-aways last fall, something I hope we continue to do this time around.
Empty Nesting, I’ve discovered, can be anything but empty. To the contrary, it can actually be quite full. Full of fun. Full of friendships. Full of memories. Full of dreams. This Empty Nester has big plans for the coming months. Grow and expand my blog? Yep! Annual college friends reunion trip? Of course! Gun lessons? You betcha!. Hold a plank for 3 minutes and lose weight? Most definitely. Take horseback riding lessons? Giddy up! Just don’t ask me to watch “Toy Story 3,” which Kristen gave me for Mother’s Day right before she went off to OU, “Gilmore Girls,” or “Little Bear!” I might be newly motivated but I’m still highly emotional. As John Schaar once said, “the future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating.” My nest may feel empty but my life runneth over with opportunity.
Right before Kristen left for college, my friend Jeannie gave me the book “Beyond the Mommy Years.” I love baths, I love wine, and I love rubber duckies so it spoke to me before I ever opened it or read a word.
In the book, which I enjoyed and recommend, author Carin Rubenstein writes candidly about “filling the void” once your nest is empty. It’s all about learning how to fill both your time and your hearts. Research has shown that American moms spend 107 minutes a day caring for children, so it should come as no surprise that Rubenstein reports 1 in 10 moms feel a lingering sense of grief when their children move out. It’s natural. It’s normal. Moms just instinctively put their children first and once those children leave the nest, momma bird sometimes doesn’t quite know how to fly on her own. We miss their hugs. We miss their messes. We miss them next to us in the car. We even miss not grocery shopping for them…something that brought tears to my eyes the first time I attempted it.
One of Rubenstein’s friends detests the phrase “empty nest” because it sounds too much like “emptiness.” Things do seem empty though; there’s no denying it. But, as Rubenstein writes, we need to remember that our time with our children is borrowed time. We will know our kids longer as adults than we will as kids. It’s time to give them those wings (and the responsibilities that go with them!) and learn to be a different kind of mom: the mom of an adult child. Rubenstein reminds us that it’s a blessing to have children who can leave home and that we should be grateful and proud.
I am extremely grateful and extremely proud of Kristen. She is beginning her new life; a life I pray is filled with joy, health, success, love, and friendship. As she learns to fly on her own, I leave her with Christopher Robin’s famous words to Winnie the Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”