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…
In 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.