Embrace the Empty Nest Season

Suzette Standring
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Labor Day marks the last summer hurrah for families. Parents of out-of-town college kids teeter on the edge of an empty nest. Tears, goodbye hugs, bittersweet farewells. Separation and full adulthood take a leap of faith. I’m talking about parents.

My daughter, Star, is 42, so it’s been years since she drove away to make the college-bound trek from San Francisco to Seattle as I wept on the street.

In 1992, before social media, there was only the telephone, a landline, not a cell. When I came back inside, a light flashed on the answering machine, a message from a friend, “Suzette, did Star leave yet? Are you OK?”

Strangely, nothing else on the machine. Empty nest epiphany. No more taking down endless notes on who called for Star. Messages just for me? Inconceivable. A corner of my lip lifted.

Sorcery settled upon my house. The clock struck seven. An unfamiliar inner voice asked, “And what would YOU like to eat?” Wait. What’s that?

Oh, it’s the blessed silence.

To be sure, there was emptiness, like the wall calendar bereft of school-related activities. The counter and chairs devoid of clothes and paraphernalia that don’t belong to me. I tossed my chauffeur’s hat into the air and it disappeared into the ether.

Now many might report a long, painful transition from being Johnny-on-the-spot mom to me-myself-and-I.

I’m here to say it can be done. In ten minutes.

My daughter and I have always been close. I’ve long marveled at her early maturity. I’d secretly wonder, “Who’s raising who here?” Of course I was sad at her departure.

When she left, I was filled with hopes and fears, like any other parent. Will she be OK? I hope she makes good friends. Will she reach her dreams? In contrast, enter the specter of derailment. Drugs, drinking, pregnancy, a sleeve of tattoos.

I wonder if kids worry about their parents in the aftermath of separation? How do they envision our possible derailment? Drugs, drinking, divorce, two sleeves of tattoos?

King Solomon, history’s wisest king, wrote Ecclesiastes, observations on life from his eyes as a young man to the wisdom earned in his old age. For every time period and season, priorities change.

For years I’m nurturing 24/7. Suddenly, my daughter’s college years away created time to find my purpose outside of motherhood. There was space to renew friendships, explore love, assess my career, and more to the point, time to examine how I stood in my own way.

Now fast forward. That halcyon period of me-myself-and-I is gone for a while again. Now involved with my daughter’s family, it’s non-stop with daily triumphs and disasters. Yet lulls and periods of space will return. When it does, take a leap of faith and enjoy the empty nest season to the fullest.

This column ran through GateHouse Media on 8/28/2016 and in The Patriot Ledger.