Spaghetti Box Kids

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Empty Nester

August 29th, 2009 · 11 Comments

A subscriber emailed these insights to me. I’d like to share them with you because they speak to all parents, young and old, and to every couple that is thinking of starting a family…

child in thoughtIn a few days our only child is leaving for college half way across the country. We couldn’t be happier for him, and he couldn’t be more ready for the challenges and uncertainties that await. He’ll have all the freedom he needs—freedom to meet new people, form new ideas, establish his own priorities—and most importantly, freedom from mom and dad. In other words, we won’t be the kind of parents who insist on constant communication, email, phone calls, etc. Instead–it’s time to let go. It’s just that simple. Time to accept the reality of those infinitely unpleasant words: empty nesters.

The thing I despise most about the phrase empty nesters is its truthfulness. It’s so direct. So clean. So swift. Once the nest was full, and now it’s empty.

Becoming an empty nester, in part, means seeing an empty bedroom for the first time in eighteen years. It means not hearing his guitar, not cooking for him, doing his laundry, listening to him share a story, a joke, an insight. It means not talking philosophy at the dinner table, not hearing about his day, his triumphs, his anxieties, and best of all—his observations about classmates and teachers. God that stuff is funny. I mean it’s so odd and interesting to hear your child’s reasoned perspective on people’s habits and tendencies: mainly because those observations are being formed for the first time and reflect the accumulation of so many years, so many seasons. But that stuff will be gone. It’ll come to an end in a few days when he leaves.

Another part of becoming an empty nester goes well beyond the empty house. It’s the feeling that it all went by too fast, it’s gone, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I mean, I look at a photograph of my child on a tricycle and ask, where is it? Where is that moment now? How can I have it back? And for some reason, the more cheer and nervous delight that shows through the photograph, the more forceful the feeling of disbelief. How can that time be gone? It was just here. The park, the beach, the zoo, the card games and story books—they were right here.

Have you ever seen a child spread his arms and pretend to be an airplane? You have. Everyone takes notice when kids do that. I’d like to take the pattern that kids make—the weaving in and out, the looping back—and apply it to time. Is that so much to ask? To have the luxury of weaving out of time in order to slow things down, or looping back in order to re-experience something that has gone by? I guess it is. That’s the stuff of make believe, and there’s no point in wishing otherwise.

For what it’s worth—if you have little ones, next time your child asks you to read the same book you’ve already read five hundred times, read it again like it’s the first time. It’ll last longer that way. And you’ll be glad you did.

Tags: Miscellaneous

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Christie // Aug 30, 2009 at 2:18 am

    I want to cry reading that, because it expresses so well the things I’ve been imagining for my near future. My youngest child is in 11th grade, and he is already starting to visit colleges. My job as his parent is and has been to raise him to be able to live a good, happy life on his own, so like your subscriber I will never do anything to slow him down or cling to him. But I am really savoring these days while he is still here. Thank you for the honest and sweet post.

  • 2 Spaghetti Box Kids // Aug 30, 2009 at 2:50 am

    I think you speak for a lot of parents when you say you raised your son to live a good, happy life on his own, and would never do anything to slow him down or cling to him. That’s probably the most noble thing a parent can do.

  • 3 Karen // Aug 30, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I totally broke down and cried reading “the empty nest” I have let go of 3 sons, and can so relate to the emotions. Our children are but a precious gift to us . You are so poignant about time, it is but a blink. But, from experience I can also say that the time ahead will also be precious, in a different way.

  • 4 Spaghetti Box Kids // Aug 30, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I can only imagine how full of energy your house must have been with three sons. I’m sure the transition wasn’t easy. Thanks for sharing those kind words.

  • 5 Melissa // Aug 31, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    My kids are still little and I can’t quite imagine a day without them. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy every minute while I still have them!

  • 6 Spaghetti Box Kids // Aug 31, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Those are the best years–when a stick can be a wand and a rolled up sheet of paper can be a telescope. Here’s to the early years. All the best- AV

  • 7 celticmusicfan // Sep 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Interesting post. I don’t have a kid yet so there is nothing to share with regards to being a parent. But I remember how it was and this is really insightful. Very good post.

  • 8 Spaghetti Box Kids // Sep 13, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Interesting that you ‘remember’ what it was like as a child. You must have been close with your parents–enough so that you gave consideration to their perspective at a time when you were faced with your own extraordinary changes. I wonder how many of us can say we remember what it was like for our parents.

  • 9 Patricia Keen // May 17, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I have three daughters I basically raised alone. The middle daughter was 24 when she left home. I don’t know what to do with myself-I am now able to stay home but it is too late.

  • 10 Spaghetti Box Kids // May 19, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Patricia, I agree–It’s not easy. Hopefully you’re keeping in touch with your children and staying active. Often parents whose children have grown find organizations to volunteer their time. Their patience and understanding can be a valuable resource to others. Best of luck. -AV

  • 11 yulie // Oct 5, 2014 at 3:11 am

    This is a great post, I don’t have kids on my own, I have one adopted daughter who gives me headache most of the time. This post is a reminder to just let it loose and cherish those headache moments that I surely will miss one day

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