It’s been a couple of weeks now, this whole Empty Nester thing that is my life now, and you know what? Not really my thing.
I knew that going in, to be honest.
In some ways you could argue it’s not all that different from last year. Tabitha had already left for college – she comes back for breaks, but she’s long been her own person and content to hang out on her own so we’d often go most of the day without seeing her even when she was here. Lauren spent the year doing everything in her power to make good on her promise that as soon as she got her driver’s license we would never see her again. She has a good group of friends and they would get together at pretty much every opportunity, and really how can you complain about that, even if it means she’s right about us not seeing her. Kim and I were both working full time, and for most of the year it was actually more than full time. We’d all go long stretches of the day without seeing each other anyway.
But it’s different now.
It’s hard to put a finger on just how. But it is.
It hits home mostly at dinner time. However busy we were over the last two decades, however many other plans we had, we almost always had dinner together as a family. Breakfast was pretty catch-as-can. Lunches were all over the place. But dinners were where we gathered around a table, if only for half an hour sometimes, and caught up with each other. Not every night, of course, but most of them. I think that matters, sharing food and conversation that way. I got the impression that we were the weird ones in this regard these days, but so be it.
It’s just me and Kim now. And the cats, of course, who always want their cut of whatever we’re having. But their conversation is pretty limited and mostly to do with snacks and hairballs and the best places to sleep, and so is rather forgettable. Mostly it’s just us.
I think the key for it all was Kim’s comment that we used to be more than enough, just the two of us. We filled each other’s hearts and worlds, and that was all we needed. But when you have kids your heart expands to take in these new people, and it never shrinks back, not even when they leave. We still have what we had before, what once filled our world – that hasn’t changed – but that world has gotten larger.
Your heart shouldn’t shrink back, though. It’s not meant to.
Whatever your personal religious views, there is some wisdom to be found in the Bible. I never really understood “take not this burden from me” until I had kids. There are burdens that make your life complete, that you wouldn’t trade for any so-called freedom, and you miss them when they’re gone. That’s how it works.
The thing is, though, they’re not gone. They’re not here. But they’re not gone.
They’re right where they’re supposed to be – off in the world, doing the things they want to do, becoming who they will be, which will in some ways be very different from who they were back when. As I’ve said before in this space, a lot of parenting is just making yourself progressively less necessary so that they’ll come back when they want to rather than when they need to. This is how it’s supposed to work.
It’s not a bad thing, even if it does take some getting used to.