Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sweater Weather

NOW is usually my favorite time of year. The beginning hurdles of the new school year have been somewhat successfully cleared and the cool weather is settling in nicely. Today I took down all the overtly Halloween-ish decor, turned all the jack-o-lanterns around so as to enjoy another festive month of pumpkins with their visual punctuations of orange, and brought out the turkeys made by little boy hands in pre-school art class all those years ago. The happy echo of Trick-or-Treaters still lingers faintly on the breeze and the end caps on grocery store aisles are now laden with pie filling, shelled pecans, and brown sugar as Thanksgiving looms. Christmas seems--thankfully--far enough away to avoid a panic attack over card sending and gift buying. It's a good in-between place to be.

And yet I can't shake the sad. I've been an empty nester for 13 months, a veteran in that department among a few of my friends, but I have no easy answers that would explain how to navigate that world. No treasure map nor operator's manual showing one how to extend a willing hand to the future while letting go of the nostalgic past. Each day is its own unique sampling of joy or angst and either can show up on my doorstep with little or no warning.

These days, any random memory of holidays with our children--when they were children-- can just as easily provoke tears as they can a smile. Those of you still in the trenches are probably asking if I have lost my mind don't remember the torture of late evenings overseeing countless homework or projects, sitting on cold, aluminum bleachers at yet another school baseball game. The PTA meetings or yet another birthday party for some unknown classmate at the Skate Palace. The OMG! emotional firestorm of adolescent relationships...or  your kid's desire for one when there were none being offered. Of course! I remember all of it as well as wishing for (what seemed to be) mythical time in the future when I didn't have to worry so damned much. Raising kids could sometimes be its own brand of emotional "house arrest" but I can tell you now that the silence when it is over can be just as deafening as the sounds of chaos when we were in the thick of it.

Their empty rooms are so still. Beyond silent. And despite the twice-monthly attentions of vacuum and dust rag? Musty.  Much like a museum filled with relics that no one uses anymore.

Sure, Thanksgiving is coming up. The visiting offspring will arrive armed with boundless energy and stories of people I don't know taking part in events I didn't witness. They will wear clothes I didn't purchase and they will exchange secrets with each other that we, their parents, will never hear.  At night they will awkwardly climb into old beds that no longer feel as though they fit and drive away the next day with leftovers and full gas tanks, courtesy of Mom and Dad. It's the least we can do and our parting benediction for children who are growing up and away with a speed that leaves me absolutely breathless.

The other day our youngest called me... bemoaning Halloween as a college student in a house with no visible vestiges of the holiday. At least, the kind he grew up with. He was throwing together a last minute costume for a party, but he said it didn't feel like the old Halloweens of his childhood. His words connoted an ersatz thank you for the years of pumpkin carving, costume making and skeleton-themed paper napkins lovingly tucked into school lunch boxes for every day in October.  In that moment, we were two interlocking puzzle pieces: He with the multiple friends in costumes but no familiar (read: home-y) reminders of the holiday and me with the house full of tangible memories and themed artifacts...and no kids to enjoy it.  Two people standing on separate islands sharing the same sweet memory through two tin cans and a piece of string.

Childless people are going to read this and think,  "Move on, Nancy"!" They would be justified. And perhaps those who have actually lost a child are simply going to want to throw up after reading my self-indulgent drivel. I get that too.  It ought to be "Hakuna Matata" around here all day long, right?  Elton John singing The cirrrcle of life while we nod enthusiastically and then make the kind of weekend plans couples typically make when they only have to worry about themselves after 24 years of living life "on call". We're all okay and we have our health! It should be enough.

How ironic is it that we spend our childhood simply wishing for time to go forward and then spend the rest of adulthood wanting to go back? Maybe I'm not asking to go back and start all over again and upon reflection? I'm not.  But what I wouldn't give for one last brisk autumn night in order to escort a mummy, a spider and a tiny pirate down down a leafy neighborhood street on a quest for candy.


  1. I hope you take this the right way: I'm glad I don't feel like this. Maybe it has to do with getting a job I truly love at the exact right time? You make me understand what you feel because your writing is excellent, but it's not the experience I'm having. I hope that you come to find the joy in their leaving after the holidays that you do in them coming home.

  2. I have a lot of friends with whom this post will resonate.
    I'm so afraid when my turn comes I'll feel the same way--their time with us is so fleeting.

  3. I have lately been feeling the same way. I loved Halloween when my daughter was little--I sewed elaborate costumes for her, and delighted in Trick or Treat and school parties. I miss many things about her childhood. This weekend she was home with her boyfriend to go tailgating and to a Browns game with us. Watching this lovely, confident young woman interact with our adult friends--most have known her just about her entire life--was soothing for me. We did just fine raising her and it is amazing to see her relationships with all the people hold close. It stings a little knowing that she has so much more than just us in her life, but it is also so wonderful to know she can navigate the wider world so well and that there are so many people who care for her.

  4. What a beautiful post! Two of our children have moved out and two are still at home, so we are in a sort of halfway state. It seems so strange to have to verify with my two oldest what their holiday plans are. My oldest was seriously ill about 18 months ago, and only recently moved out. I am happy that he has made this transition, but it is terrifying to me that I can't watch over him constantly.

  5. This is coming up for me, my oldest being 17. I want him to go out and do whatever his heart desires, but I know I will struggle with this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I agree with Patience, what a beautiful post. So many of your words speak to me and to almost all the mothers I know. I have one away at college and two teens at home. With kids at home we're just too busy or demanded upon to fully savor. With them gone we just plain miss them. I've had lots of private cries in the shower (my husband OTOH can't wait for the silent nest) and they all seem to revolve around the idea that we shall never pass this way again. I'll never be mom to them in the same way I was. And that's supposed to be the happy ending but I know I'll never feel truly happy about it. As an older parent (had my first at 34) I also fear that I won't be young enough to enjoy my grand kids, especially if they wait as long as I did to start their families. I love my job. I have good friends. Many wonderful happenings. But there's just something irreplaceable lost when kids walk out the door.

  7. Also, who knows where, in what far corner of the globe, my kids will end up settling? And if they all leave the area, do I follow them? One day at a time, right?

  8. My only child is a senior in high school, so I know that next year, her room will be depressingly empty (unless she gets smart and does the community college thing, which would be a huge relief in more ways than money.) What I kind of dread is the time when she gets old enough to not come home for the holidays, even. It felt so grown up when it was me. I'm not looking forward to it when it's my own darling girl. Sigh. I suspect I may be in for a hard time of it, no matter how much I love my husband and am looking forward to some times of just the two of us. Actually, we have that now...

  9. Lovely writing here. But I have to agree in part with Jenn. While I adore my two twenty-something boys, I am very much enjoying this Return To Couplehood. Part of it, I think, is that I've never been a LookBack sort of person. I do remember fondly so many aspects of their growing up, of course. But I sort of have the feeling, always, that "Okay, and now we move on." I really don't know why.


Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.