When my older son, Casey, was a senior in high school, I remember thinking, "Gosh, he'll be on his own in less than a year." It was hard to imagine. Someone who had lived with us for so long, and gone from baby to toddler to boy to young man, would no longer be here in the morning when I woke up or in the evening, when I went to bed. Photo by JMarkBlasingame
Casey left for college a thousand miles way, in Dallas. I survived, and so did he. We stayed connected through weekly Skype calls and monthly care packages of homemade cookies, beef jerky, and occasionally, carmel popcorn. My husband and I got used to piling the day's mail at his place at the dining room table--an empty space that had a new purpose. Reunions during school breaks meant eagerly making a place for him again in the household. Over the years, the immediate feeling of loss at the end of August became familiar--and bearable.
Our younger son, Andy, is less of a homebody than Casey. Once he earned his driver's license, he was out with friends or busy with school activities most evenings of the week. Still, I felt his presence with requests to borrow my car, gas tanks that needed to be filled, and dirty ice cream dishes, a tell tale spoon sticking out, near the sink.
Last year, when Andy was applying to colleges, I knew that my life would be changing soon. Empty nest became a milestone that I didn't want to come too quickly, like a 50th birthday. I savored the last high school events, as a proud parent at parent teacher conferences, as an audience member for choir concerts and musicals, as a somewhat bored observer at robotics competitions, as a teary-eyed mother snapping pre-prom photos of teenagers in tuxes and tuille.
When Andy was accepted to a major university on the East Coast, I was excited for him. He was clearly ready for the next adventure in life. I was more circumspect about what was next for me.
I planned a summer vacation, the first one in years, knowing that it might be the last family vacation for awhile. We chose to visit Seattle in August. Pike Place market, terrific Japanese food, multiple flight museums, quirky Seattle neighborhoods.
My favorite memory of the entire 6-day trip was a night when the Perseid meteor showers were at their height of visibility. We were on a local island, far enough from the light pollution of a big city to see the blackness of the sky in a new way. From a Hansel and Gretel like cottage that I found through Airbnb, we walked down a hill in the darkness, toward a beach.
Laying on the ground and looking up at the sky, waiting for a shooting star to cross our field of vision, I felt the sweetness and personalities of my two sons infuse the night air. It was a quieter, more intimate version of fireworks, one where the anticipation of a bright light flying across the darkness made the actual event even more surprising and enjoyable. One where waiting for the next sparkle in the sky was time for friendly chatter. After 30 minutes, Andy declared he was ready to go. We made our way up the hill, blankets hung over our shoulders, Casey waving a flashlight on the road ahead for effect. Photo by Bearfaced
Back home, ten days later, my boys were gone. Not forever, but for enough time, several months, to have the house--and my life--feel different.
Now that I'm here, a 50 something woman with no kids at home, I have been surprised. It has not been as hard as I imagined.
Sure, some things are different. Take grocery shopping. No need to shop the day old bread and pastries that young men gobble up and middle-aged women abhor for their weight gaining properties. Buying a whole chicken seems like overkill. I think twice about picking up a half gallon of ice cream, knowing that it could stay in the freezer until I break down and eat it, all of it. Photo by straubted.
At times, I wonder what my sons are doing in that very moment. It's the nosy parent in me. My younger son is fiercely independent, having spurned all offers for me to send him things that might make his life easier--including gift cards for the local bookstore and water bottles. In the end, I know my sons are living their life as they want to. And that brings me peace.
My husband and I have a closeness that we haven't had in some time. We are looking forward to taking a few trips, perhaps Santa Fe in the fall. As we are waking up in the morning, there is light banter. We cook meals that we both enjoy, dishes that our kids would find unappealing, like mussels with pasta. Knowing it's just the two of us, we are seeing each other as more interesting and fun companions. It's a nice feeling that takes me back to the early days, before kids.
I realize that I have had a life outside of children for a long time, not just with my husband, but also with my business, clients, colleagues, friends, and extended family. In the past, my waking days were not so much about activities with the kids as they were about kids in the background of my life, with a presence that was light-hearted and fun and young. So it is today. Once a week, our boys have agreed to meet on a Google Hangout, so that we have face-to-face time, virtually.
This is Week One. So far, so good. Ask me how it feels in Week Six or Seven.