I awake to silence, not the sound of an alarm, an opening door, water running or birds chirping. I just awake, suddenly. When I look at the clock I see that it is much earlier than when I typically awaken. What day is it? What do I have planned for this beautiful early September day? Is my son working? Is my daughter? Should I let him use my car, if I’m working from home today? Then it strikes me. The lump in my throat forms and my vision becomes blurry. Today indeed is a special day. It is my first day of being an “empty nester.” Yes, the kids have left the nest, flown the coop. Life in this house will never be the same. We have said good-by to our daughter, as she begins her last year of college, and to her brother, as he begins his first year.
I try to go back to sleep, but remain wide-awake, alert and ready for something. I finally rise, and in a few minutes so does my husband. “I’m going to Home Depot,” he says. Of course you are, I think, this is just any old day for you. But, something is very different. The house has no energy. It is so quiet, not peaceful or serene, but just quiet. “I want to get a new blind for the kids’ bathroom; it’s broken. I also want to clean up around their bathtub and that sink is clogged again. What a mess,” he says, shaking his head. What? How can he do this? The kids’ towels are still draped over the shower rack, no longer wet, but dry and waiting for another use, or a wash. Our daughter’s hair is still in the sink and also pasted in a design, strands of hair spread out across the shower stall. And the blind – it’s crooked and broken, but that’s because only she can straighten it out, maneuvering the strings ever so carefully to make the blind lay evenly across the window pane. If she were here, it would be fine. But, she’s not.
Can we let the dust settle for a bit? Can we leave the bathroom as it is, with the marks of our children? I’d like to walk by it a few more times and think, yes, it is a mess, but it’s their mess, untidy and disorderly, but full of energy, a fast -paced stream of activity, the opening and closing of a door, the banging and shouting at a locked door, the sound of water in a shower that has gone on a bit too long, the heat of a hair dryer, all reminding us of the personal hygiene activities that define two young adults.
I don’t say any of these things, only nod to him through my blurred vision, while swallowing the lump in my throat, as I head downstairs to make my morning coffee and deal with my denial.
So what should I do for the rest of today? Should I follow my husband and get some cleaning done? Our son’s closet needs sorting, and his room needs some serious disinfecting. His Hawaiian shirt is draped over his desk chair, and his dirty socks lay scattered across the carpet, where he left them when he came home the night before he left. The plastic mat under his desk chair has a stain on it, a burn in fact, caused by a little episode with his telephone charger. I’m sure if I dig deeper I will find more effects of his experiments. This cleaning could take awhile, however, and I don’t have the energy for that now.
I could head to a barre class, an attempt to follow my morning routine and not think about this empty nest thing. This would be good for me; this is what I do, when it fits into my work schedule. Exercising in the morning gives me the rest of the day to work, and gives me time at night to be there for my family. Ah, but now, they don’t need me in the early evenings. Here comes that lump again.
There’s always grocery shopping. I’m frequently told that there is never anything to eat in the house, or if there is food, it’s not what they want or like, at that moment in time. There is no reason to purchase the summer food whim of my daughter – the burritos with” simple ingredients”, to which she adds more of her own preferred items. I don’t have to search for the packaging that is lime green, not yellow, orange or green, but lime green, because it has potatoes and cheese and is meatless, and that is the only one she will eat. To the “simple burrito” she adds her own special items, heats and browns it to just the right crispiness, a process that recreates it to her liking, every day, all summer, no deviation. I don’t have to buy any green tea for my son, green tea that is different, because I always buy the same brand, he says. Different does not mean “weird” ingredients like orange or ginger, but just different. Mint perhaps? Or maybe a different brand? Or from a different store? Alas, the items my children like to eat are not needed in my grocery cart today. I can buy whatever I want, and my shopping experience will be simple and uncomplicated and undemanding, yet I have no appetite for that today.
Maybe I can begin to explore what this empty nest is all about! There is no doubt that I need to learn to live differently now, with a new schedule, and more time to do just about whatever I choose to do. But this uneasy feeling that began early this morning needs some time to elapse. It has its own schedule and must run its course. I’m not ready to explore the positive side of empty nesting just yet.
There are plenty of things I could do today. But, I will do what I typically do when something is unsettling. I will think about it, allow the sensation to creep in and let my thoughts remain there, take over, surround me, engulf me. I won’t make any changes yet; in fact, I won’t do much at all. I will dwell on it all day long if I have to, and then I will let it go.
When I awaken tomorrow, and I feel the lump rise in my throat, I’ll push it away, take a deep breath and walk by my children’s rooms knowing that they are in the midst of experiencing exciting changes, moving from adolescence to adulthood, making their own decisions, taking on new responsibilities, continuing to grow and learn, and embracing what life has to offer them. And, like me, they won’t accomplish this in a day, but in years. So tomorrow, I will think about a few small changes that are necessary and how I will begin to make them, when the time comes. I will not jump into it with the energy of my husband, but in my own preferred way.
Is this empty nest thing for the birds? It could feel that way, for awhile. It is a reality that life as I knew it just yesterday, is behind me. I finished the chapter. But unlike a book, I can’t go back and read my favorite parts, reliving its characters’ experiences. I can begin to write and live the next chapter. Like my children, I can leave the comfort zone of my nest and build a new one, when I am ready, slowly, and thoughtfully. With some uncertainty and an open mind, I can create a new and different habitat, and I too, can learn and grow and experience change, and build a nest that is full again.