Like so many other middle-age baby boomers, my children are grown and are living on their own. They have actually been doing so for quite some time now, but I’m just getting around to writing about this topic. I find that kind of interesting because, until recently, I never thought much about it – this empty nest stuff.
However, in the past several weeks, I have had conversations with a few other “empty nesters” – randomly talking about life, especially life NOW …. after the kids are gone. I’m such an introvert and rarely, if ever, share my important, private thoughts with anyone outside of my small, close inner circle. But as I listened to other women speak about their feelings of having no children around, I began to share some of my thoughts with them.
The collective feeling among them, or us, is that, Okay, the kids are grown, off on their own – now what? Well let me speak to what life has been like for me in the past several years since my children have grown up and left the proverbial nest. My life had actually started changing a few years before my daughters left home. Life as I’d known it – 20 years – was quickly becoming something that I hadn’t planned for or really expected (you can read more in detail on that in my previous post, Thriving After Infidelity). My marriage had ended after almost two decades and I was divorced. I am still grateful to this moment that my children, Janelle and Melissa, were grown while this was happening – 23 and 18, respectively. But even as very young adults, it was still difficult for them as they witnessed the unraveling of consistency and the comfortable foundation that they’d known. However, they were both on the verge of beginning their own lives as young women and they would soon have adventures and goals of their own to focus on.
Before I knew it, I was divorced and then, in what seems like a moment later, my girls were gone. Janelle had already graduated from college with her BSN in Nursing and began her career as a traveling nurse and shortly afterwards, Melissa entered college and graduated with her BA in English – she was going to be a school teacher, but she’s actually a Flight Attendant now. Wow!! Oh yeah! I’m so very, very proud of both of them! They both make my heart swell with happiness and they are the loves and joys of my life. How could I not be proud of them? They are two wonderfully inspiring, smart and intelligent women, living productive and successful lives. Of course, they have their share of challenges – as it should be. I often remind them both that the only way to become stronger in spirit and mind is to have challenges and obstacles in this life. Part of my “birds” learning how to fly is building their wings so that they can navigate life and ride the winds.
Okay, so now that you know about my children and how proud I am of them, you may be wondering how I’ve dealt with this “Empty Nest” syndrome during all of this. Well, here’s the truth: Yes, I live alone and I’m really good at that. But the thing is: I’m not lonely. My house may not be bustling with the sound of siblings arguing over who’s turn it is to wash the dishes or putting each other out of the other’s bedroom after an argument, nor do I have the pleasure of threatening bodily harm to one or other if I had to tell them to clean up their rooms one more time (Honestly, after they got older, and I did, too, I would just walk past the culprit’s room and simply close the door so I wouldn’t have to look at the mess). I also don’t have to wait up for them at night when they’re out on a date or figure out what to do with them during the summer when school was out (Did I mention that my water, electricity and food bills were SKY high during those summers? Oh, okay, yours, too? So you know what I mean!)
Now, even after all of that, and so much more that comes with being a mother with two kids, ask me if I’d do it all over again and my answer would be a resounding YES! Besides this present time in my life, raising my children was the happiest, if not busiest, time for me. But ask me if I’m happy now – even with the kids grown and on their own – and you’d also get a big resounding YES again.
Without me even trying or planning it, life changed and I was pushed into this new life which has become my new normal. Over the past several years, my “nest” has dwindled from a spacious and comfortable home that I shared with my then husband and our kids, and friends and family who visited us, to a small, one bedroom cozy little apartment that I have decorated not with parts of the Ava I used to be, but the Ava that has emerged out of pain, turmoil, disappointment, growth, confidence and resiliency. My nest is bathed and swaddled in spiritual peace and tangible love. While my new normal has required, even demanded, that I leave some people, things, beliefs and behaviors behind, it has and always will be inclusive of my children. They are and always will be my “constant” normal.
I am so joyful in this new life that I have created for myself – on the other side of the emancipation of my children. I am also grateful and thankful that my children are a constant and loving part of my life and they happily allow me to continue to be a part of theirs. No, I don’t have to referee arguments anymore. However, now I speak honestly and openly to them about the good, bad and ugly parts of my life. I don’t wait up for them to come home from dates. But as young beautiful women finding their way in this world, I continually pray to God for their safety, protection and wisdom in all areas of their lives. They don’t fight about doing the dishes anymore – they don’t have to do them if they don’t want to since they have their own homes and they pay their own light and water bills now.
My empty nest life is filled with doing all the things that I love to do and now have the time to do them. Among many other things, writing and maintaining this blog is one of them. I am the keeper of ALL of the family pictures that we’ve taken over the years – the baby pictures of my girls – the ones when they were in grade school, minus a few teeth or wearing oversized eyeglasses or brightly colored hair bows in hair that didn’t always look picture perfect by the time the camera man said “Cheese.” I am often amazed now, in their adulthood – their womanhood – when they refer back to either something I used to say all the time or do all the time when they were kids – they really were paying attention!
My days now are focused on taking care of myself and finding new adventures to pursue. I’ve learned to never say never and that it’s more than okay to not know what my next move is – and even if I do, keep it quiet until after I’ve made it…and then not to everyone! Taking care of myself consist of getting and staying fit and healthy, learning how to eat to live and finding comfort in prayer and peace and my spiritual balance and center through meditation. It is a time for reflection, revision, and rediscovery. In my quiet nest, I have found that I really do enjoy my own company and I’m not afraid at all to be alone. Each and every day, in my new normal, I find wisdom, truth and worth – wisdom in being able to honestly look at my life and learn from my mistakes and move forward – worth as in self-worth and truth as in MY truth and what makes sense to me, and what doesn’t. As I continue to carve out my new life, I remind myself that it is more than okay to have and establish boundaries for yourself and that the word NO is a complete sentence. I know what I bring to a table and I’m okay eating alone in the meantime.
In my “empty nest” I’ve discovered an abundance of self –love, awareness, an awakened spirit and a soul that is colorfully filled with golds, reds, purples, oranges and blues and lots of glitter and inner sunshine and laughter on most days; and some days there is sadness and emptiness still for those I’ve lost (my sisters) and even for the loss of the sweet innocence of my children’s childhood – it simply went too fast. Although I do pull out the pictures from years gone by and lovingly look back into the past – the past when my children were young, toothless, dirty, happy, and loved…always loved. I now remain steadfast and solid in my new normal – my present. I celebrate my life every day and I celebrate the lives of my daughters and the lives they’ve built for themselves. After all, isn’t that what this journey of motherhood is all about? Raising children into successful, loving, productive, responsible human beings who can live on their own, without us? Yes, that IS what it’s about. So, I’ve done my job, and by the looks of my daughters, I’ve done it well – I’ll drink to that and to them!
So, nope, my nest really isn’t empty. It’s filled with wonderful memories of my children and the precious years that I loved and nurtured them into adulthood. My nest is also complete with dreams and goals of my own – things that I put off doing years ago or things that I never thought I’d ever do. My new normal “empty” is renewed with anticipation and excitement about what’s next for me. My nest patiently waits for the next generation of “birds” to fill it with childish laughter and antidotes – those of my future grandchildren, whenever that time happens. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my new normal – my not so empty nest.