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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Is your nest empty yet?

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

Editor’s Note: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is writing a blog called “Food for Thought.” It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com.

Ours is. Our youngest child graduated high school in 2010 and left for college last Fall. I just knew it was going to be bad. I dreaded it all through her senior year; I nearly drove myself crazy dreading what I often daydreamed about (I can admit that now) over the years of raising our brood. Remember the days when you’d give anything just to be able to use the bathroom in peace and solitude? In truth, I was terrified at the prospect of an “empty” nest.

I think I was so scared because, for more than 20 years, the ultimate reason for most everything I did was our children, our family. I planned my career around their needs. Our social life was an offshoot of their activities; whatever sport they were playing dictated what we did and when we did it. Don’t get me wrong; I made all those choices willingly and happily. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change any of it.

When our baby moved away to go to college, I knew in my head that was a good thing. I knew that we had raised all of them to be independent and responsible, and of course I knew that they would all move out some day. It’s what’s supposed to happen, but you somehow just don’t really get it until it does happen.

My poor husband paid the price for my neurosis at first. As soon as he’d walk in the door from work, I’d pounce on him – verbally, anyway. You see, as a freelance writer, there are days when the only other human I see is him, much to his dismay. He’d walk in, and I’d start talking … about anything, anyone, any topic that came to mind. I think that’s when he perfected the art of pretending to listen. He’s an absolute pro by now.

I packed his lunch, fussed over his health and stresses and day-to-day activities; in other words, I focused all my maternal attention on him. I also nearly drove him crazy.

I started talking to our dogs a lot more than I used to. I think that worried him.

After a couple of months of all that, I realized something. Yes, our children move out (the only worse thing I can imagine would be if they never moved out, as some of our friends are experiencing). But they come back, and often. And something’s different when they do. They’re more grown up, more appreciative of their home and family. We get to see that they really can function as adults, because we gave them the tools to do so.

Oh, there’s one more thing I forgot to mention. When your children leave the nest, it takes a little while, but you get back in touch with what you both like to do, how you like to spend time. It sounds corny, but you get to know your spouse again. You have more time for your friends. You can travel anytime you like, not just in the off-season from school and sports. You can make last-minute plans as a couple. You can choose to have cheese and crackers and jellybeans for dinner and not listen to a chorus of “Oh no, not again!” And when you clean the house, it stays that way for a few days. That’s nice, too.

Still, maybe we’ll get another dog. My two are getting that “we’re only pretending to listen” look down to a science.

Whether your children are babies, school-age or whatever, they will leave home. If they don’t, you’ve got bigger problems on your hands than a little temporary loneliness. What have you discovered since becoming empty-nesters?