Empty Nesters. Such a welcome phrase to many parents and a phrase filled with dread for others.
When Leif and I moved Brittan into her dorm out of state three years ago, I bawled like a baby because she was the last ‘baby’ moving out. I didn’t want her to know how close I was to losing it so I was mostly tough as I gave her a final hug. I watched her walk away under the big campus trees as we drove in the opposite direction and I was a goner–sobs and crocodile tears. The moment felt the same as when I buried my face in Leif’s chest when Zach started first grade.
Milestones like this? I feel them.
I was leaving my girl for the first time so far away and it would just be me and Leif. We drove an hour away and celebrated our life transition by riding dune buggies, walking on the beach, and wine tasting. We were Empty Nesters!
It took some getting used to and it’s been three years but people still ask, “What’s it like?”.
It’s like, they’re gone. It’s like, your house is different and quiet. It’s like, your life is different but fine and fun, but different, and it’s like, your kids don’t need you the same way they did before.
Really? Really. Here’s how I know.
As much as Brittan loves to see us and as much as I need my Brittan fix every so many weeks, she’s definitely moved on, into her own nest. Last summer I went to visit her and while there I moved her out of one apartment into a new one. She would be on a different side of campus, saving money, and living with one of her best friends. A win-win all the way around.
My job is remote, so I can take my work with me when I visit her. I’d put in a full day and was mentally tired. We’d taken a lunch break to haul everything she owned with a friend’s little truck (three loads) and I don’t know how many loads of boxes and odds and ends in her little Mazda. Some of it she did on her own. Some of it I helped with when I could take a break.
I don’t know why my kids always live on the third floor with no elevators, but they do, and I wasn’t in good shape to begin with so I was wiped out by the time we started unpacking boxes. We could have waited to unpack, but she was going to come home with me for a couple of weeks so we thought we’d get her situated before leaving town.
We started in the bedroom. First we made the bed so something was ‘finished’. Let me tell you, I don’t know what it is about her bed but it is like a heavenly cloud of sweet sleeping goodness for me. There is nothing like that bed to knock me out!
I kept trying to lie down and she’d say, “Mom, we’ve got lots to do!”
Ugh. Really? Who’s the mom here anyway? I’m the mom, but she was obviously in charge. I asked how I would be the most help. Since we’d loaded all her sweatshirts and sweaters into garbage bags to squish into the Mazda, she asked if I would take them out of the bags, fold them, and hand them to her so she could put them into the closet.
“Great. I can do that!”
I folded thick sweaters, thin sweaters, hooded sweatshirts, hoodless sweatshirts. Goodness, that girl seemed to have so many sweaters. Then I realized she was unfolding and re-folding them.
I said, “What are you doing? I already folded those for you.”
“I didn’t recognize them as folded.”
What?! Apparently, she no longer folds the same way I taught her to fold. OK, that’s fine; to each her own. I lay back down on the cloud bed, letting it wrap around me, my eyes heavy.
“Mom, no sleeping! We’ve got lots to do.”
“OK. Well, what would be helpful?”
“How about if you work on the living room?”
“Great. I can do that!” I left her to refold all those sweaters and started pushing her couch, coffee table, and a bookcase the landlord had left for the girls around the living room. I stacked the board games just so. I arranged her three plants in a group. Very nice. When Brittan emerged from the bedroom and saw what I’d done she said,
“Mom, this is all facing the wrong direction.”
What?! What is she talking about? This is fantastic!
We moved the couch, the coffee table, and the bookcase onto different walls and facing different directions. The games were moved and the plants were taken from their arrangement and lined up in a neat row on the dining table. It was completely different than what I’d done.
“Are we done?” I asked, thinking about lying back down on her bed down the hall.
“I’d really like to get the kitchen done.”
“Great. Let’s do that!” I sat down, opened a box and started unwrapping whatever was on top and handing it to her.
“Mom, this isn’t going to work for me.”
“I just need to do it my own way.”
Why isn’t my way her way? I don’t really understand. “OK. I’ll work on the bathroom.” I unpacked as much as I could and arranged things in the way that made the most sense. The management company hadn’t done a great job of cleaning so I set to work trying to make things better. Brittan came in and said,
“Mom, it’s fine. You don’t need to do that.”
“I do. It’s not really cleaned that well.” I went into the other room to clean something else that had bothered me earlier.
“Mom” she called, It’s fine.” I went back into the bathroom where she was rearranging a few more things she’d brought in. I was wiped out at that point so I just sat on the toilet seat for lack of anywhere else I really cared to move to. I looked at the toilet paper roll. I knew I had put the roll of toilet paper on it because I had to use the bathroom first thing when we hauled in our first load. I knew I had put it on but it was all wrong now!
It was Over, not Under. I started to take the roll off the holder and I said, “I know I put this on here but this is wrong.”
“No Mom, it’s not. I like Over not Under.”
“Honey, it should be Under not Over.”
“No, I don’t like trying to find it underneath. I like it Over, OK?”
Gasp! The final straw.
She folded her sweaters differently than me. It turned out she even folded her towels differently than I do. Her living room was definitely not arranged the way mine would be. Her plants were in a straight line. The kitchen? I don’t even know. And now this–toilet paper!
Yep, she had definitely transitioned to her own nest. It wasn’t about me anymore. It was about her and that was how it should be.
As much as I cocked my head and furrowed my brow and marveled at our differences, I was glad she was able to own her space regardless of what I tried to do for her. It was her nest and I would just visit (it seems cozier every time). I had to acknowledge that I am no longer a part of the equation. I went back to my nest and realized it really doesn’t feel empty anymore because I’m not holding a space in it for somebody to come back to. My kids have occupied their own spaces pretty well and my empty nest feels fine. That’s what it’s like–it’s like, it’s fine.
- When your kids are OK, all is right with the world.
- They learn their lessons and move on.
- Empty nests don’t feel so empty after a while.
- Not everybody likes Under. Most prefer Over.