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Reclaiming My Empty Nest

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Yesterday, I heard a blessed sound.

I heard a pin drop. Really. Distinctly. Loud and clear.

The noisy pin boinged its way out of yards of crinoline I had wedged under the pressure foot of my sewing machine. (Yes, I can sew. My current project was an undergarment for a wedding dress, guaranteed to lift the skirt. Mission accomplished. When completed, the petticoat was so puffy, it stood on its own volition in the middle of my family room.) The missile pin flew across the room, landing onto the sole of my nearby empty sandal, in a din heard ’round the world.

Okay, maybe not around the world. Certainly the boomeranging pin landed with enough decibels to awaken a sleeping Boston terrier. (She stirred.)

The reason for my glee in hearing a pin drop? My nest is empty, thankfully, finally, again. My visiting adult children have flown back to their lives in San Francisco, and I’m giddy in the resultant silence.

Call me broken, call me an ogre, but I was never one of those mothers who suffered from “empty nest syndrome.” I am not June Cleaver all warm and fuzzy; I belong to the Facebook group Moms Who Drink and Swear. (June Cleaver would die. That’s me, drinking and swearing.) Even so, friends warned that I should prepare for major depression once the birdies began to fly the coop. Sure, when the first child left for San Francisco just after his 18th birthday, the angst was palpable. After all, he was making a cross-country trip to college, 2,300 miles and four hours by plane away, to a Big (Foggy) City, where the nearest relatives resided in San Diego (another long drive), and that alone was scary. After he left, we missed his constant piano playing, not just the happy pieces (which were few and far between), but even the funeral dirges and the dissonant Russian compositions that used to make us cringe. At one time we begged him to stop practicing; but his absence made us take back every snarky comment we had made about Prokofiev. We even missed the sibling bickering a little.

Three years later, when Child #2 left for a West Coast college, we were ready for the respite. My daughter is many wonderful things, but her level of high drama is exhausting. During her high school years, this girl proved much more challenging to raise than her brother. However, friends warned me that my now truly empty nest would hit me like a ton of bricks, and I would be left bereft and pining for my children’s return.

I waited, but this did not happen. Instead, something refreshing occurred.

Freedom.

After letting the cleaning lady go, my husband and I cleaned the house once a month, and shock upon shock! it actually stayed clean! I didn’t have to worry about dishes with mystery food rotting under someone’s bed, or where the alcohol was disappearing to. We started making creative dishes for dinner. We rescued a dog. We began doing things we wanted to do, instead of having to reserve time for our children’s activities. We left the bathroom door open, and even took to walking around in the nude!

I no longer decorated for the holidays. Instead of wrapping 2,000 twinkly lights around our faux evergreen and dragging up boxes of decorations, I bought a very chic, sequined Christmas tree. This I bring up from the basement once a year. Two minutes, and it’s done. That’s about all the holiday cheer I have in me these days.

Although I sometimes wonder what mischief my children were getting themselves into half a country away, I no longer stay up all night worrying where my child is at 4 a.m. With them gone, the food bill goes down, as does the water and electricity bills. When the thermostat is set at 62 degrees, it is a sure bet that it will stay there and not fluctuate from 50 to 90.

I revel in childless living. It’s not that I don’t care; I do. These are my kids and I love them. But we are all adults now, taking care of ourselves. Supposedly.

I now understand how my father feels after a week of us visiting him, and there are three times (6) as many of us, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He loves us, but he’s worn out and shell-shocked by the time we leave. I can imagine him closing the door behind us and taking a well-deserved nap. For a couple of days.

This summer, my daughter returned at the end of the school year to work for us, and the household was turned upside down. She took my car and my clothes. My dog received more doggie treats than is healthful and slept with my daughter instead of in her crate. Then my son and his wife visited for a week. In between the renewed sibling skirmishes, I was dispatched to Sam’s Club to gather provisions every other day. That’s because my son, at 6′ 3″, is a spindly 130 pounds and can apparently eat five meals a day without gaining an ounce.

It’s been a week since I carted them to the airport. My house and my refrigerator are empty, and the silence is deafening.

There is something transcendentally Zen about the lingering lull.

And damned pleasant.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.