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The Ups and Downs of a New Empty Nester

Updated on May 1, 2019

I was visiting my eldest daughter in VA where she recently graduated from college. She chose to stay in the charming city of Roanoke after finding a great job, a great guy, and a darling little house on a hill. We were having dinner at a little Italian/Venezuelan restaurant –I know, odd combination- enjoying a glass of wine and talking about her new job among other things; and all of the sudden I find myself holding back tears when she says to me that I can take her off our family dental insurance because now through her job she has her own.

It all flashed in front of my eyes, the visits to the dentist every 6 months that seemed to come every month, praying for no cavities and repeating myself the importance of dental hygiene, “because your teeth have to last forever!” I would say, trying to pretend I didn’t see the famous teenager rolling of the eyes. Not to mention the dreadful visits to the orthodontics that lasted from elementary school through high school, the nagging before bedtime to brush their teeth and floss! Retainers found on night tables or on the floor. Toothpaste all over the sink and on the hand towel… So, will I have no more of this?, as my daughter is now an adult and will take care of her teeth on her own, thank you very much. What kind of mother is about to cry upon the realization that she is done with such a tedious and annoying responsibility? Am I an irrational lunatic of a mother that will start to sob after being released from one of the dreariest jobs of motherhood? Well, before you dare to agree to that, this all has to be put into context. I am a brand new empty nester you see, thus my tears come and go at the most ridiculous events that don’t make any sense whatsoever to anybody; anybody but me, and maybe to a mother –or father- that had to see their children grow up and leave home.

The Perfect Plan

My husband and I were blessed with two daughters that were born almost 5 years apart. Always thought it was a bad idea to have them so spaced out, they could never “play” together, always at different stages in their lives. When one was in middle school, the other one was in high school, when the young one began high school, the oldest one went to college. At this time, I thought maybe this was not such a bad thing, it was actually the perfect plan. It made the leaving on my oldest one for college so much easier, as I had her younger sister still at home entering her teenaged years; need I say more? I was plenty busy consumed with the delights of raising a teenaged girl; picking up her clothes from the floor, teaching her how to drive, playing spy to find out anything about her secret life, asking her to please wear less make up and more clothes, and so on.

But the perfect plan backfired on me. My oldest graduated and decided to stay in the city where she went to college, far, far, away from our Florida home –if it is not 20 minutes away from home, it is far-. So I had a somewhat delayed sense of lost. I always thought that she will graduate from school and come back to the city where we live to start her new life. All of the sudden, the tears I should have shed when she left for school, I shed 4 years later when I recognized she wasn’t coming back. My perfect plan that one daughter will be coming back, while the youngest will be leaving -which will ease my sadness- did not happen. Actually it was worse, as if they both left at the same time.

Preparing to say Goodbye

Consequently, when I prepared myself to say goodbye to my youngest one that was going to college here in town -35 minutes away, far, far away-, this time I made sure I cried in the right order. But not when I dropped her off at her dorm as usually parents do. The atmosphere was way too cheerful, students and parents were all very happy, carrying boxes, lamps, and mini fridges. Not when I rode home with an empty car and an empty feeling. I was too tired from the move. But when I got home, and walked in her room and she wasn’t there in her bed snuggled with her phone to her nose.

I know now that once they are off to college –thank God a parent would say that has a twenty something son or daughter living in the basement- they will only be visitors to your house, welcomed guests, that perhaps will ask you to make that dish –that u didn’t even know they liked- for dinner, or will ask if you redecorated the house because it looks different –it’s just tidy.

My youngest decided to stay in town, her college is close –according to everyone, they don’t understand my 20 minute rule-, which makes it even more difficult because I feel I don’t have the right to be sad; as people point out she’s just a few minutes away, implying my gloom is not justified. But distance is not a measure that correlates to a degree of sadness; she’s not home with us, it doesn’t matter if she is 10 minutes away; she is not in her bed at night, looking for food in the kitchen at midnight like a raccoon. She’s not riding in the car next to me, giving me attitude, or totally ignoring me with her headphones, and telling me I have lipstick on my teeth. I miss that.

Something is Missing

So now here I am with my husband in this empty house, except for our 6 year old cockatiel named Pepper. My sister says your house will never be quiet, you have Pepper that makes more noise than a house full of children. But I think even Pepper has gotten more calm, or is it that I am just waiting for his screams to fill the air -when he sees me eating tortilla chips he will not stop until I give him some-. We sit in the family room to drink our coffee in the morning and it seems like time stays still, we talk, we look at each other and how we have aged, gray picking out of our hair, not mine thanks to L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference 6.5G. Gray picking out of my husband’s hair, we were so young when we met and married, we reminisce about the past, we talk about the girls, the fence needs to be repaired, maybe fish for dinner. But as we talk, we can hear the birds outside more clearly, it is still quiet. But it is pleasant and peaceful I guess. I only guess.

I keep busy throughout the day, but with this nagging feeling that I forgot something, something is missing. You should get a puppy my neighbor says, you should go back to work says another, you should travel more. As those activities will feel the lonely space in my heart that I carry at all times; no cute puppy can replace my children, what an odd suggestion; my daughters were far messier than a puppy could ever be.

Now I must be an Observer

So now, just like babies came with no instructions, adult children come with no instructions. No job description: should I call them, how often should I call them, should I text, should I facetime, should I snapchat, it’s all too confusing nowadays. I can’t tell them to eat all their vegetables anymore, or to wear a sweater when it’s cold, or that those shorts are too short. Now I must be an observer, and only render advice when the time calls for it. I find this transition quite difficult, as if I was relegated.... or perhaps upgraded to silent partner. I will not be in charge anymore. I will only be a consultant. My phone will ring when my expert advice is needed –or money. Mistakes will be made, and I will be here to listen and help. It should be a less stressful job, like clearing out from the driver’s seat and letting Jesus take the wheel. But it is not. As I ride on the right seat, I am not sure where I am going, or what way we shall take. We might as well enjoy the ride, I know we will get there, someday soon or someday late.



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