The Nest Empties
It has finally happened – my Mrs. and I have reached the promised land of the empty nest. So how do I feel about that?
My first response was joy. Should my children read this, let me explain. We have spent the past eight years whipsawing back and forth in an ever-changing number of people in our household.
Between January of 1992 and September of 1995 we went from a household of two to a household of five. And there it stayed, for quite a long time.
I liked five. It was busy and loud and occasionally fractious but I liked it. I got used to the gradual change from watching little children with too-little understanding of the dangers around them to living with teenagers who were beginning to navigate a world that did not involve their parents. At least not any more than necessary.
Then our eldest left for college – and we became a family of four. All of the dynamics that had been relatively constant for so long changed. However, he would occasionally come back – just as we got used to being four we became five again.
But it was a different five because that one cycling between college and home had experienced a level of freedom that was different from before.
And so it went with the cycles moving through any combination of two through five adults, three of whom were used to doing things their own way (and the other two being called Mom and Dad, who were definitely used to doing things their own way).
Circle of life and all that.
Four years ago the more permanent changes started coming when the eldest joined a religious community. From that point on his visits have been relatively short, on the order of two or three weeks total spread out over a couple of times a year. His brother graduated school a couple of years later and followed that up with a real job and an apartment of his own.
The last big movement was in May when the youngest graduated. We got a trial run of empty nestdom when she spent the summer at an out of state internship. But then she came back for a time that we expected would be a few months as she transitioned from student living to real people living.
That changed when her old roommate offered her the chance to take an apartment and after only a couple of weeks, there she was – employed and living on her own.
Now it is quiet. Large meals are not made, leftovers do not disappear, there is lots of room in the driveway, and we are never left wondering what plans are for an evening or a weekend.
There are no traffic jams in the laundry room, no shortages of hot water and no mystery when something gets broken or disappears.
However, there is also nobody suggesting a youthful adventure or exposing us to new music or new phrases or new anything. There are no unannounced visits by young friends (almost all of whom we enjoy seeing) and no impromtu conversations about the important things in life. There is nobody to shake things up.
My Mrs. and I have long threatened to tackle some household projects, so I suppose that now is the time. And time is something that we have a lot of now, to spend the way we choose – just like the old days. It will take some effort to resist the temptation to start these projects “tomorrow” or “next week” or “next month” as we relax to a full queue in the DVR.
We are quite capable of finding things to do and My Mrs. and I enjoy many of the same pursuits. We have already driven across town to a particular place to eat and gone to two different apple orchards. OK, so we like apple orchards.
I have no sage bits of wisdom about this and no bitingly funny remarks. Only a mixture of happiness and sadness along with conflicting senses of fulfillment and loss.
We tried hard to raise our younger members to grow into independent adults, and it appears that we have been quite successful in this. Now all that is left to do is settle into a new equilibrium. What will it look like? I hope it looks like last evening when we went out to celebrate a birthday. It was five of us, but a different five, one that involved a “significant other”.
It now occurs to me that this new addition (one we have been pleased to get to know) marks the start of a new period of “number fluidity”. Who knows what number our family may contain next year or the year after that. Oh well, it is not something under the control of we older ones so we may as well relax and enjoy the changes.
Photo credit: Empty nest found at maxpixel.net and available for use per Creative Commons Zero license
I’m in the whipsaw phase. One of our sons is living with us again through at least the end of the year. Our daughter sleeps here but is otherwise seldom present. Our youngest is here with us too, commuting to IUPUI.
I think those whipsaw years were my least favorite. Each change seemed to bring some major adjustment.
Yup, it’s in sight for us. Our son is doing a gap year working at an outdoor camp. He has learned to run high ropes, mountain biking, and axe throwing!
I’m just packing up now to go north for 3 days (Canadian Thanksgiving), haven’t seen him since the end of August. I had told Mrs DougD that it wouldn’t be different, just leave the light on and close his bedroom door and pretend he’s in there. But it’s not. As you say fulfillment and loss.
Ah well, maybe we can get some axe throwing in..
That sounds like a fun trip. None of ours took a gap year but I imagine that the effect is the same.
Thankfully we are several years away from any of this and, at this point in time, imagining myself in your empty nest position is tough (and painful) to comprehend. But it sounds like you are making the best of it. We have been getting brief glimpses of it when our daughter has been at various functions. There is a cost in having only one offspring as our empty nest won’t be a gradual occurrence.
The only alternative my wife and I have identified is to be like a couple we know. The he-half is two months older than me, so quite identifiable, and they just had #13. They needed a tie-breaker. They’ll be dead before those kids are grown.
If you were to ask my advice (which you have not, but here it is anyway) I would say to take this time to cultivate activities that you and Mrs Jason enjoy doing together. That way when things get quiet you won’t sit there staring at each other wondering what to do now. The alternative is two people in the same house but in separate worlds, something we have mostly avoided.
Our nest has been empty for a few years now. Mostly I like it, though eating leftovers three days in a row can get old. The other imbalance, if you will, is that I’ve been retired for a few years and my wife works full time. Both by choice, ours and each other’s, but it adds a few wrinkles sometimes. And both our kids are currently living out of state, with one at the opposite end of the country, so we don’t see them as much as we’d like. Both of them are driving our old cars, and occasionally call for automotive advice. That part feels good.
The kids so far away would make things harder. We have one 4-5 hours away but the other two live in the area, which is nice. I not only get asked car advice, I occasionally get pressed into mechanic duty. But I like mechanic duty. It is always so much more pleasant on someone else’s car. 😀
What a beautiful description you’ve written of this transitional phase in your life, JP. When I got to the last two paragraphs, though, I got the distinct sense that you and the Mrs. should visit as many apple orchards as you can stomach — because soon enough there will be a new generation of unexpected visits and crowded bathrooms and large meals (and no left-overs). May you and your family continue to be blessed …
Thank you, Heidi. You make a good point that we should be doing what we want to while we can. But the way you predict our future sounds pretty good. 😀
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We are in the teenage years trying to enjoy the life lesson conversations in the car on the rare occasion when they want to hang out with us!
Those are good times. There are also less good times, but eventually the good ones outweigh the bad. At least they did in our case. And don’t fear, some day you may become at least a little bit cool again. 👌