(photo: Empty nest syndrome. Photo taken by Laura Hartog. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/legalcode)
Before something major (and anticipated) happens in our lives, we usually go through some sort of transition. It could be physical as in perimenopause or spiritual as in a marriage or divorce. But the change that impacts me the most right now is purely emotional. In a little over a year, both of my children will be in college and my husband and I will become empty nesters.
In my heart of hearts, I believe this will be a good thing.
I’m thrilled to see my kids developing their independence from us and beginning to figure out more of who they are and what they want to do now and in the future. I don’t think we will lose them as much as rediscover them as they grow and change.
When they leave, my husband and I also will have more time both together AND apart to pursue those interests and dreams that got lost in the shuffle of being parents and creating a happy family life.
So why do I sometimes feel desperate to turn back time? And why do I feel it most when my kids have made me proud? Or when they do something that shows they are ready to be more independent?
Last week, my youngest returned from a school-sponsored trip to France. On the way home from the airport, my husband and I took her to a pizza place where we sat and ate and talked about her experience. Her group of 11 students spent one week in Colmar, in the Northeastern part of France, hosted by French families, and then two days in Paris with the school chaperones. The trip was chock-full of visits to museums and castles and churches, eating croissants and crepes and croque-monsieur (apparently, they only eat foods starting with the letter “c” in France,) and shopping for clothes and chocolate (another “c” food) and souvenirs. When I asked her what was the best thing about her trip, she paused and said two things. I’m summarizing here so these may not be her exact words (that was for you Rachel if you’re reading this). First she said that she loved that in the home, she spoke only French with her hosts, and that while she didn’t understand everything, she was able to get along well without the use of her native language. And second, she said that she loved Paris because she felt comfortable there, like she was supposed to be there.
Proud moment for me. Clearly she made the most of her trip. She actually used the language she’s been studying for six years. She tried to experience the culture rather than standing outside of it. I couldn’t have wished for anything better. I was so happy for her.
Yet, that night, in bed, I told my husband that I was sad, that I felt so aware of the reality of our children leaving our home for good. That it seemed like just yesterday we were singing them to sleep and taking them to tumbling classes. That everybody tells you how quickly they grow up but you can’t fully take it in until you are there, seeing them, as mature young adults, able and ready to take on the world.
Most of the time I am excited to enter the next phase of our lives, and when sadness overtakes me, I have to remember that it’s because my children are thriving that I can see how they’ve changed from tiny, needy beings into full-grown, highly capable people. With choices to make. And lives to live.
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