It’s quiet. Like really quiet. Like the kind of quiet that makes you immediately suspect your kids are up to something.
But then you realize the real reason it’s quiet is because your kids simply aren’t there. And your heart breaks just a little bit more.
That’s what it’s like when you return home from moving both your kids into college. Besides walking in without tripping over a mound of shoes, the very first thing that hits you is that deafening quiet.
Oh, well-meaning people who have dropped a kid off at college but still have other children at home, they will tell you they know how you feel, say they can relate, but not until it’s their last child – until they experience the quiet – can they truly comprehend the complexity of emotions involved. It’s a mix of excitement, pride and joy, with an underlying emptiness, sorrow and sense of loss you just can’t shake.
Just when you think you’re getting used to it, little things tug at your heartstrings out of the blue. You grab three forks instead of two, you absentmindedly put your son’s favorite Doritos in your shopping cart, you’re halfway up the stairs when you realize no one is up there to call down to dinner.
It’s weird. And it’s hard. And no matter how much you think you’ve prepared yourself, the truth is you really haven’t. Like the last 18-plus years of your life, you’ve focused on preparing your kids, and when you drop them off and arrive back home, you realize you’re not ready at all. One minute you’ve got it together and the next tears are welling up in your eyes because of your daughter’s sock left behind in the laundry.
As difficult as it is to get used to, though, every cloud – or in this case, empty nest – has its silver lining, right? So, that’s what I’ve tried to focus on – the positives:
n Less laundry: Not until my kids were both out of the house did I realize the enormous amount of laundry they generated. Sure, I’ll be making up for it when they arrive home on Fall Break, but for now, it’s nice to do a couple of small loads and call it good!
n A relaxed and flexible schedule. As much as I miss watching my kids play sports and participate in activities, I have to tell you, not having places to be and certain times to be there has been kinda nice. There’s no rush to make dinner, no care what dinner is even going to be, no stress, or dividing and conquering. Although I’d give it up in a second to watch one more game, the return of “go with the flow” evenings is actually a nice change of pace.
n Less time and money spent grocery shopping: Yes, we’re somehow paying for two tuitions, but let’s not focus on that right now. Let’s just enjoy the hugely reduced grocery bill and the fact that shopping takes literally half the time – and, I might add, needs to happen half as often.
n What gets clean stays clean. This is huge! It used to take all of 15 minutes before what I cleaned needed cleaning again. It was as if I was being followed by a tornado as I vacuumed. I would organize cupboards only for them to appear as if they were raided by raccoons minutes later. I haven’t seen a random half glass of water or wadded-up sock in weeks – it’s amazing!
n Far less to remember. I used to have a million things going on at once and a calendar so full it was hard to keep everything straight. There were conflicts to figure out and logistics to plan and details to take care of, appointments to schedule and checks to write, snacks to buy, and volunteering to do, lunches to make and meetings to get to – and the list went on and on. But now I pretty much just need to remember what the last episode was that I watched on Netflix.
n The long-lost date night is back. It’s almost like we looked at each other and said, “Hey, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a while!” Being together as parents is different than being together as a couple, and as odd as it was to suddenly be just the two of us again like it was so many years ago, it’s been nice to spend more time together just hanging out.
n It’s quiet. Yes, as much as this strange sensation hits you like a ton of bricks, it does have its good side. I can actually sit down and read a book, and I’ve even found that I can also actually finish a thought. It’s weird and I’m still trying to get used to it, but the quiet isn’t as bad as it first seemed.
Being an empty-nester isn’t easy and I know it will continue to take time to adjust. I know tears will still come, but so will smiles. I miss my kids with all my heart. I even miss half-full glasses, wadded-up socks and buying Doritos. But, at the same time, my heart couldn’t be more full. I couldn’t be happier for my kids, more proud or more excited for what the future holds – except maybe for those extra loads of laundry I know are coming my way.
Hang in there, fellow empty-nesters. Focus on the positives and count down the days until you get to wrap your arms around your kids again. Hold them as long as they’ll let you – for the hardest part of all is letting them go.