With our middle child preparing to head off to university this fall, and our youngest eager to follow that same path next fall, we are starting to grasp the stark reality of the phrase “empty nest.” That being, the nest will actually be… empty.
We see bits and pieces of what that will be like here and there. Tonight, for instance: our youngest is visiting his mom, and our daughter is off at a party. I’m out of town on business, and Meg is home alone. Home. Alone. With nobody else there.
And it’s freaking her out a little.
I have this happen to me occasionally as well, when everyone is off doing their thing and I get back before they do or some such circumstance. But these days that experience is mitigated by the knowledge that the situation is only temporary; soon the garage door will open, the dog’s ears will prick up, and somebody will be back in the house. Next September, that won’t be true any longer.
I remember that when our oldest went off to university, I kept wanting to call down to the basement where his bedroom was to remind him to empty the recycling, or come up to dinner, or something. It was a while before I got used to not doing that anymore. That’s going to happen again, I’m sure.
We were just discussing this the other day, and I think the moment when it will really hit hard is when we have just arrived home after dropping the youngest off at university, and we close the door behind us. Nobody but us in the house, nobody coming through the door anytime soon. Just us.
We have no idea what we’re supposed to feel at that point. Joy? Sadness? Relief? Pride? Contentment? Fear? Panic? Nostalgia? Longing? Does anyone know? And is there even a right answer to that question?
We’re going to find out. That day is closer than we think, a fact that we’re becoming acutely aware of as these summer days slip away.
It’s funny: we spent all this time as parents counting the days until our kids went off to school and stopped driving us nuts. Now, with the reality of the empty nest peeking at us over the horizon, it’s becoming clear to me how much I’m going to miss them when they’re gone.