Getting Used to an Empty Nest During the Holidays
Another successful Hallmark-like Empty House Holiday and I’m back in my Empty Nest groove. In the past, I dreaded the first day of an empty house after a family gathering. I was always lonely, blue and feeling empty. Not anymore; I now have a strategy for transitioning back to a quiet, clean house and still relishing the craziness of having everyone home. This didn’t happen on day one but took months to set in.
I remember the day I first realized that I was empty nest. You would think that it was after our last kid had moved on to college in August. For some reason, that never occurred to me. Maybe it was because the kids had been coming and going with their busy schedules that I was no stranger to an empty house. I remember feeling alone, the house being quiet, clean and refrigerator remaining full. Still no conscious recognition that I was an empty nester. I purged closets, cleaned out drawers, painted the baseboards and had lunch with friends. My life was no less busy but I did notice that I watched the clock waiting for my husband to get home at night.
It was now November, still no self-awareness of the empty nest even though our freshman was showing signs of homesickness. All three kids flew in for the Thanksgiving holiday at different times. The first arrived on Monday night and the last arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The house was once again ramped up to full of energy, laughter, chaos, dirty clothes and mess. I couldn’t have been happier.
I remember entering the kitchen to find all three kids standing looking into an open refrigerator. They were just staring into the refrigerator with big smiles on their face. My inquiring mind wanted to know what they found so interesting. They jokingly called it the Church of Frigidaire. It had been summer since they had seen a refrigerator full of real food. The two elder students were kidding their younger sister. In previous years, she had told them they were crazy… but now she knew the beauty of real food and had joined their religious celebration. After a moment of thankful prayer, they grabbed food and took off for opposite ends of the house. Fortunately, I had spent the previous week baking and cooking some of their favorite go to foods. I took satisfaction in their delight.
The rest of the weekend was a blur of laughter, cooking, storytelling, football games, Christmas decorating and -- of course -- laundry. I felt whole. I was a mother hen with her chicks and I felt needed and loved.
All too soon Sunday arrived and the kids packed to return to their respective universities across the nation. It turns out that all of their flights left at approximately the same time so we would make only one trip to the airport. The car was loaded with suitcases, care packages of food and three well-fed and clean-clothed kids. I had made dozens of trips to the airport to drop off kids the past four years, so I was on autopilot. As the car came to a stop, the doors swung open and ALL THREE KIDS jumped out of the car, grabbed their suitcases, gave me a kiss, high fived each other and took off for their check-ins.
Wait, what had just happened? Five minutes earlier we had been a family of five and now there were two parents standing by an empty car wondering what had just happened. Tears filled our eyes; we closed the doors and drove off. Not a word was said on the way home. We entered the empty house to see the remnants of the Thanksgiving break activities. Slowly we began the clean up still not talking or looking at each other.