The "empty nest" usually refers to homes that are no longer filled with the noise and clutter that are part of childrearing. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I'm a hater.
As the years go on, I find that there are different degrees of emptiness. Maybe your last child has just gone off to college. Or perhaps all your kids have finished college. Maybe your only child didn't go to college at all, but has set up a new life in another town.
Unfortunately, I apparently did a good job teaching my kids how to be independent. I taught them everything I knew, and made them listen to things they were not remotely interested in, to prepare them for life without me. I have had a couple of major illnesses, and that probably contributed to my sense of urgency.
"OK, I know you dont care about this right now," I would say to my daughter. "But someday you might need to know that if you dont pay your credit card on time, the bank will not only charge you a late fee, but it could also raise the interest rate on your card forever." Now that my daughter is 26, she's naturally frugal, and wont buy anything on credit.
"You know, women talk about things," I would tell my son. "They call their friends. So keep in mind that whatever you say to one girl, you are really saying to seventeen girls. And whatever happens, dont put it in writing." Now that he is 22, my son has good sense about people, women included. He knows whom to trust, whom to humor, and who will be a problem.
Both of my kids are out of college and living with their Significant Others. A Significant Other takes the Empty Nest syndrome and multiplies it. Where once you were the consultant, caregiver, and confidante, youre a fifth wheel. Before, you might have gotten a call about a fever, a problem at work, or even a happy surprise. Now these are all shared with the Significant Other, and if youre persistent and lucky, you might find out about them later. I am grateful for cell phones, but they work only if the person on the other end answers. I often feel rebuffed. I know my child is looking at the caller ID and thinking, "Its just Mom. Some other time." I know it isnt really personal, but it feels that way. E-mails are even less popular. Occasional text messages are permitted, but for some reason questions like "Are you still alive?" are not appreciated.The empty nest is touted as a time to re-discover your relationship with your spouse, to invest in your own self-improvement, and to travel or start a new hobby. That sounds good. But Ive been talking to my husband for 38 years, and he now knows how to use Selective Hearing to tune out my voice completely. I have so much self-improvement to do that I could fill several lifetimes and still be a flawed human being. And while I enjoy pastimes like reading and knitting, I also have a career that still takes up most of my time. I dont have the time or money to plan a getaway to re-connect with my spouse.
Recently I heard from an old friend on Facebook There she was in her Profile picture, absolutely beaming and holding a small child tightly. The first grandbaby. She had crossed the Desert of the Empty Nest and entered the Elysian Fields of being a grandparent.Im not about to nag my children about having kids. Theyve barely started to live their own lives. I now understand the jokes about parents pressuring their children. They want to do it all again! They want to hear the pitter-pat of little feet, and the crinkly sound of diapers under clothes. They want to smell the scent of Clean Baby, and to re-experience the mess of Food-Covered Baby. We never forget how to do the Baby Dance with Fussy Baby, and we never tire of holding Sleeping Baby.Ive learned that much of parenting is a waiting game waiting for the sound of the car in the driveway at night, waiting for the return phone call, waiting to see if grandchildren appear. But Ive also learned that a parent is always a parent, and - whether it is filled or empty - a nest is always a nest.Nellie Sabin is a writer and editor who has published 10 books on a variety of subjects.Tell us: Are you suffering from empty-nest syndrome? Are you happy to be on your own, or would you prefer kids in your home? Our new commenting system makes it easier than ever to share your opinions.