A Temporarily Full Empty Nest

parents say goodbye

This summer, for one week, we had all three of our children living in the house at once. This was a rare event. When our oldest son went to college in Chicago, he, of course, came back home on holidays and vacations. But he hasn’t really lived here since 2004 when, after graduation, he stayed in Chicago. Then our younger son left in 2008. He was nearby in his own apartment, and did pop by pretty often. But now he lives in The Netherlands. Our daughter, our youngest, started college last fall, so she’s a part-timer at the house. For now, at least, it is still her home.

“Adult children” is an oxymoron. Historically and genetically (except for my daughter, who’s adopted) they are my children. But the boys, at 34 and 28, don’t need a mother anymore. They have wives and jobs. The oldest has his own child. (Don’t get me started on my grandchild living 800 miles away. And please don’t mention Skype again, either.) Where did the years go when my sons were little? Part of me wants to scream, “Really? Don’t you remember the time you two sat on either side of me on the bed and went back and forth repeating: “My mommy.” ”No, my mommy.”

But even while screaming inside, even while wishing I could still have back some of the sweetness of their childhood devotion and dependence, I do the work of learning to treat them like the adults they are. When they were kids, there was different emotional work: I had to develop a tolerance for disorder, toughen my heart when the boys fought with each other so as not to despair, maintain a surface calm—while plotzing inside—when they were hurt or hurting. In a way, I guess, I am in another phase of parenting.

Do I wish they lived closer? You betcha. Have I stopped kvetching to them about it? Mostly. (I often need to remind myself of the WAIT guideline a friend told me about: it stands for Why Am I Talking?) I recognize they love us, but needed to separate from us. To treat themselves like adults. Am I proud of them for this? Of course. Do I give myself (and my husband) credit for how well they turned out? Rarely. But I don’t mind when other people do.

I miss my kids, but this is the A plan. My job now is to savor the times I have with them, to always cheer them on, to keep developing new relationships not only with my sons, not only with my daughter, but with my daughters-in-law and granddaughter as well. Although I know I also will, with a sigh, often catch myself recalling my favorite one-liner: “My children have disappointed me. . . . They grew up.”

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