Empty Nest: Party of Two
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Empty nest. Two words have never terrified me more in my life. In my alternate reality, it wasn’t something I ever needed to worry about. I had three kids who consistently stuck to me like glue. Playdates were usually at my house, sleepovers were incredibly rare, and the suggestion of overnight camp was met with horror. Even when my older son went off to college, my daughter brought home a best friend who needed a family, so we basically took him in. I became convinced that our family model would work exactly that way: Kids would shuffle in and out but someone would always be home.
Cut to the summer of 2019, when my self-created delusion was in final-countdown mode. My family of five had already dwindled down to three. My older son had ensconced himself in independence in New York City a few years prior, and my younger son was home, looking forward to heading back to college in Florida at the end of August. My daughter had spent the past year living at home, applying to graduate school and taking years off my life. And yet her September departure was rocking me in ways I'd never experienced. How was I going to function inside an empty nest?
My internal turmoil spewed out of my mouth at anyone who would listen. Some tried to console me while others just scoffed at how ridiculous I sounded. I had fear and dread written all over my face to the point that even the spirits noticed. My mother dragged me to a medium reading one night, where my deceased grandfather called out to me, “What are you so afraid of?!”
Mother Nature gave me a small reprieve when Hurricane Dorian closed down the state of Florida at the beginning of September. My younger son flew home, which meant I still had someone living with me for a few extra days after the dreaded grad school drop-off. I savored his company and tried not to suffocate him, especially when we hugged goodbye at Newark Airport.
Thanks to some creative planning on my husband’s part, the song playing when I got back into the car was "Just the Two of Us," our new theme, whether we liked it or not. We stopped for lunch on the way home and it felt almost like a date. However, pulling into the driveway was startling for both of us. The house I would often see looking perfect on the outside yet filled with kid-centric clutter on the inside was completely empty and quiet. Quiet. Another cringe-worthy word in my vocabulary.
I liked my husband better without the kids around — shocking, in part, because I think a large chunk of my fear centered around the worry that I would hate him.
By the next day, the space-time continuum had sent us back to 1991, the year we got married. I prepared dinner for two, we talked without interruption, and we enjoyed watching TV together. The house was peaceful and I didn’t feel like I wanted to jump out of my own skin, but of course, I knew that wouldn’t last. We were still in the novelty phase.
An Empty Nest Can Be a Happy Nest
As the days passed, two big revelations slowly hit me. The first was that I liked my husband better without the kids around — shocking, in part, because I think a large chunk of my fear centered around the worry that I would hate him. Second, I was beginning to reconnect with myself. I was no longer somebody’s mom 24/7. All of their energy was out of the house, which meant I could get reacquainted with my own. I used to be a fun and busy person, and I still had a lot of strong interests worth pursuing. Having lunch with friends was no longer enough to give me purpose, so I started to fill my days with things for me. I made sure to get to the gym, I pursued a new level of my spirituality, and I joined a writer’s group. My family had kept me distracted from finishing a novel I started writing 12 years ago, but that excuse was no longer valid. I controlled all of my own time and it began to feel not only great, but empowering.
A striking realization came two nights before Thanksgiving: The kids were on their way home and I felt like I was on the cusp of an invasion. I sat on the couch, taking in the final moments of serenity, acknowledging that I actually liked the peace and quiet. Of course, I love my family and I treasure the rare times we are all together now, but I’m just as okay without them in my daily space. In fact, I prefer it. Getting reacquainted with myself has been the biggest benefit of my empty nest. Now my only fear is them coming back!