Pre-Empty Nest Summers



It’s been exactly 4 full days that kid 1 and kid 2 have been gone and I’m starting to get ‘that feeling.’ I check my purse, my keys, my wallet and my phone at least 3 times before closing the front door. And once it’s locked, I check once more. I know everything is there. I know it is. But there’s that feeling I can’t shake for a few seconds and it doesn’t take me too long to realize it’s not ‘what I’m missing’ but ‘who.’

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled and excited that they get to go on these great trips. What an amazing experience it must be for them. Two years ago they traveled through Colombia. They hiked and rode horse back through some of the mountainous regions. They celebrated their dad’s marriage with old and new family. They had the privilege of spending time with their grandfather on what would be his final family vacation. Their memories made, and relationships that began there, have flourished. Including the relationship between the two of them. They got along well enough before the trip. They always have. I mean, the four year difference between them has caused some minor incidences. And there’s no doubt that the divorce, the cancer, the world has brought them closer together. But that year proved to be the one that brought them from the obligatory brother/sister relationship to one of being friends. Voluntarily. And despite their many, many, many arguments about whose turn it is to do the dishes, fold the clothes, throw out the garbage and who had the remote last, I don’t think I’ve ever heard them say they hate each other. That was the year he told her, “you’re the only person in this whole world I’m 100% related to.” It still makes me a little misty eyed when I think about it.

Last year, they had the privilege of touring some of Europe. Her dad kept his 16 year promise and was the first man to ever take her to Paris. They also strolled through the streets of London and witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (well, they waited to witness it but I don’t think it happened that day). They marveled at the ruins in Rome where the gladiators once fought to the death and ate more pasta than they care to recall. Last year is when the 4 year gap suddenly narrowed. They learned they liked the same movies, music, jokes. Their conversations became longer and private. That part has taken some getting used to. When she left for California in the fall, I went into her room to make sure she was awake and I found him curled up beside her. Her head buried in his shoulder. Needless to say, the 2 seconds it took for me to leave the room (for their privacy and because I was well on my way to the ugly cry) went by in super slow motion. I can’t remember if I was sad because they were going to miss each other, proud that they would miss each other or overwhelmed at witnessing just a small part of their bond. I didn’t know that I wanted that for them so much until I saw it.

This year their family trip finds them in Germany with Austria and Switzerland next to conquer in the weeks to follow. They update on facebook and send me private messages in my inbox. One complains that their dad is being cheap the other that their dad is being too protective. I smile. I know they only complain to me about him because they think it makes me feel better. Little do they know that I feel most comforted because he’s doing those things. Earlier this Spring, kid 2 said he didn’t want to go. He doesn’t like the long plane rides and he wanted to hang out with his new high-school friends this summer. Neither his dad or I were upset about his decision. But then kid 1 found out. That did not go well. Needless to say, after a 5 minute conversation, he was back on board. Best part of that convo… “what do you mean you don’t want to go? this is our only real time together without our ratchet friends getting in the way.”

I do love that they are spending this time together. Learning about the world outside of Chicago. Learning about the history of countries far older than our own. Learning how to be a family outside of the one I make up with them. Learning how to grow their friendship. I do love this time in their lives for them. But I miss them. Not just how a mom misses her kids. I like my kids. I like them a lot. They not only make me laugh and challenge me as a mom, they challenge me as a person. Even when they are the most confused or start to feel like life is pinning them against the wall… you know, the way life can do to us sometimes… they may cower for a minute or two. Maybe even make an unwise choice in the whirlwind of emotions that happen within the situation. But, when the dust clears, they’re they are… standing all tall, with a smile on their face and a smart-ass remark to boot. Survivors. Don’t tell them but I’m pretty sure they get equal parts from those of us who are only 50% related to them.

Which brings me to this pre-empty nest summer. You’d think it would get easier seeing as it’s my third one. Not that it’s tragic. I’m making do. You wouldn’t be reading this if they were here. But still, I don’t like it. I enjoy alone time. I’ll enjoy most of these next 9 days. Kind of. I have my new job and that’s good. But I don’t live to work. I went 12 years without a ‘real job’ and found more fulfillment and purpose in that mundane life of being a mom. At times, the noise drove me close to insanity. And now the silence does the same. There were times when our 2 floors of home with a double lot backyard felt too small for the four of us and the countless friends who roamed in and out. Now, our 1300 square foot condo with a deck can feel haunting. There was a time when I used to think about what it would be like when the kids were old enough to drive and do things on their own. I promise, it never looked like this. I have my moments of anger/regret/disappointment. I’ve learned to stop asking why. Although I do wonder, how did I get here? But then I take a deep breath, close my eyes and let myself see what I wanted. I give it a good 5-7 seconds before I remind myself it’s time to open my eyes and see what’s there. Once in a while, I close them again. Quickly. But most times, it’s just makes more sense to do what’s harder, so I keep them open.

There’s a tree just outside of my front door. This year, it didn’t bloom. At all. In it there’s a bird’s nest. The kids used to point it out every Spring. They didn’t need to though. It was hard to miss with all the bird tweeting coming from it. Obviously since there are no leaves on the tree, with the protection from the elements gone, there haven’t been any birds or eggs in the nest this year. For a few weeks I thought it was the saddest thing. But today I looked up and thought it was kinda cool that the tree is still standing. It appears to have no use anymore. But there it stands. Who knows for how much longer? The fact is, it’s still there. Even if it’s sole purpose is so that I can admire it just the way it is.