Saturday, August 21, 2010

Baby Separation Anxiety In Reverse... AKA Child Rearing Afterlife... AKA Empty Nest Syndrome

I made this post approximately a year ago and thought it worthy of repeating for all the new *empty-nesters*. I've also added a few new thoughts to the pot.

Our son never knew a stranger and took to mother's-day-out like a fish to water. Our daughter, on the other hand, held onto my leg with all her might as she pleaded with me not to leave her, crying all the while. Wait. It was more like sobbing and bawling. It was the most painful thing I ever did. Leave her at mother's-day-out for a few hours once a week. And yes, her umbilical chord had been previously cut, I assure you. How was I to have any idea that this would one day be a total reversal of roles?
Since our son & daughter are no longer living at home, I have a much clearer long term perspective of being an empty-nester. Of course, most Moms will bawl like babies (much like their children before them) before, during, and after initial separation, but hopefully not until they have deposited their children in their respective college dorms and driven away. I did. It was excruciatingly painful to let both of my children go off to college since they had been my main job for 20 years total. However, I was also excited about getting to know my husband again after all those years of going in opposite directions. Let me just say that took some adjustment. We were almost complete strangers & I was worried that we might not be able to recapture what we'd had between us back when we married in 1977. But, I didn't really expect that same spark. I just wanted to have a good relationship again. Somehow, we were able to find it, but not without obstacles. You have to really want to make it work again or it's just wasted effort.

Luckily, we were able to mend the fences & become reacquainted with one another again, although it isn't the mad, passionate love we once had. It seems to be somehow different, and yet the same. We'd spent so many years in *Parent Mode*, I feared we couldn't make the transition and I think it's like that for a lot of couples. If you aren't in touch with one another by the time the kids have been gone a couple of years, then it's probably a lost cause, in my honest opinion.

At any rate, here is how the whole scenario goes (Okay, for me anyway.) :

You spend time & money shopping & getting them off to college, which should be considered time & money well spent. You shop for all the things they'll need, load the Suburban (top and interior) with all those things, you help them move into their dorm, hang pictures & other stuff, run at least a gazillion times to the hardware store to find the little item you forgot on the last trip, then they want you to get the Hell out. You know. Leave. Vamos.

Then you make the drive home, perhaps crying all the way or at least part of the way. When you get home, it's so quiet you could implode. Then the phone rings and it's the college kid... wanting something. Wanting you to send lots of somethings. So, you send them. Every time there is a request, you send the items. Between the phone calls & the packing & shipping of said things you're barely able to catch your breath. At this point you're thinking "What empty nest?"

I recall one instance when we went out to dinner with friends for the evening, which was the first time in many years. When we arrived home, there were like 4 answering machine messages from our daughter with the last message saying "Mom! Dad! Why are you not picking up the phone? I know you're there!" I'm pretty sure Mr. Snoots and I had laughing fits as we were swinging from the chandeliers. When I finally spoke to her, I said "Hey - Guess what? We have a life now. Get used to it." I think she was in total shock for a month. It might have been three months.

If they decide to come home for the first summer you once again think "What empty nest?" You find yourself running errands for them & cooking again, just like before they ever left. Their rooms have become similar to shrines rented out to temporary strangers so you just don't mess with them.

SD was only home the first summer, working full time for our best friends' law firm. The next year she was home long enough to take a class at the local junior college that included a two week trip to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. She's such a savvy girl.

When school starts back in the Fall, you are saying your blessings & thanking God they are once again gone. Besides, it's football season and you can hardly wait for game-weekend-road-trips. The phone calls & requests for things they need continue, but on a slightly smaller scale. You begin to realize that you might just be able to have a life beyond children. This is the time in which you begin to once again blossom as the human being you were before being someone's Mom. Someone's wife. You might even become something better than you were before, as it all depends on what you want at this juncture in your life. We all want something different but that doesn't mean we really even have to accomplish anything at all.

Hopefully, we do something that makes us happy, with someone we really love.

You still make the trips to attend sorority or fraternity parties that invite the parents. It's all fun and you talk with other parents who are also discovering (or not) they might just have a child rearing afterlife as well. This is, understandably, a slow & gradual process. You take your kids out to eat and suddenly discover that they were actually paying attention when you were teaching manners. That, or their friends shamed them into better table manners. Either way, you are grateful to whatever powers be.

By their third year of college you realize they are truly growing up and you really did a fabulous job. You can pat yourself on the back here. The phone calls dwindle to once or thrice a week and your new life begins to take shape.
When they reach their senior year of college you don't actually realize that things are coming to an end until they come to an end. Once they graduate and go out into the real world to work you are still taking care of business & never quite understand what is happening until it does happen. You then realize that they have done exactly what you trained them to do for 23-24 years. You also realize the two (or however many) kids suddenly like and care care about each other. You realize all those referee sessions during car trips and in public, paid off.

I just want the soon-to-be-empty-nesters to know that this whole process is only as difficult as you make it. Don't be anal retentive, overbearing, or smothering about it all and learn to go with the proverbial flow. Always encourage them to be as frugal and thrifty as possible, since they won't always be on Dad's payroll... and keep reminding them of this throughout their college years.

I remember our daughter once bringing home a wonderful poem from Sunday School that I still have on my refrigerator:

"I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless...they crash...they hit the patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them be lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly. Finally, they are airborne, they need more string and you keep letting it out. But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy. The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone. Only then do you know that your job is done."

Erma Bombeck

Then, your daughter moves to the big bad city of L.A. and you fret and worry for four years, praying that she'll be safe and one day return to her roots. Alas, one day she decides it's time to go to law school, in her home state, and all planets become aligned with the universe. All is right in the world (with a few small speed bumps). Then prodigal son decides to show up whenever he feels like it which makes us unsure of our privacy once again. *SIGH* Not sure how I feel about this, really.

Parenthood is certainly a trip and, like aging, is not for the weak or the faint of heart.

I would also like to say I'm sorry for my absence of late. The heat has been unbearable and our air conditioner has gone out 3 times, so I mostly stay at my friends pool. Deal with it....


Mental P Mama said...

Love this! And so needed it;) Stay cool, baby!

scargosun said...

I wish I knew some empty nesters to send this too because it was full of wonderful emotion and yet e very instructive. Hope you beat the heat. Take a dip for me at the pool.

Sjn said...

Empty but full over here! My grandbaby has seen to that! You just wait, it's the best!
Soooo hot here too. I hate this heat. I hibernate in the house, doing projects. The greens are closed on the course due to the heat, so I can't really even golf. Oh where, oh where is Fall and cooler air?! I'm counting the days.

Bodaciousboomer said...

OMG! Were you with The Midlife Gals when they ran over that busload of nuns and orphans in a past life, therefore dooming all of you to a life of sweaty misery and broken AC's? Or did you make fun of that old gypsy lady's mustache?

pinkim said...

Hi There, Just discovered you! I love this, it is very well don, but you know this! I am an very new empty nester(just one week so far) so this is very timely. Thanks for the great advise and I love the poem!!


Green-Eyed Momster said...

Two of my kids are driving....

Great post!

Hugs and love,

BJ Roan said...

Erma got it right! Mine have been out of the house long enough for me to adjust properly..kind of. I still miss those little kid hugs in the morning, but now I get to have grandkid hugs! Life keeps on moving on...


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