About six years ago, I started writing of my worries – my heartache – of becoming an empty nester, which happened this past September. Every time a daughter left for college the dread set in. I knew the day would arrive, and it did. And while I want my three daughters to know how much Joe and I love them, adore them…we have come to find out the empty nest is a pretty nice place to be.
In anticipation of our first weekend alone, Joe and I planned a short trip to Washington, D.C. My thinking was the first Saturday alone in the house was sure to be painful, so we should put it off. The plan was to trick myself into thinking life was still good.
Our first stop was the National Portrait Gallery. We were there for four hours. We walked on every floor. We read the small signs hanging on the wall next to each portrait. We stopped at its café halfway through the visit to have something small to eat and do a little people-watching. Joe and I had conversations about some of the portraits. We talked at length with a security guard in the presidents’ gallery; he had immigrated here from Ghana, and in his home country, his father had been a noted politician. He was fascinating. We probably talked for 25 minutes.
It was the kind of museum trip you don’t have with kids. There isn’t much standing-still time on those visits. You don’t have long conversations unless it’s about your kids: which one has to go to the restroom, and where is the restroom? Two are saying they’re hungry. Do you want to eat now? All three are tired, let’s just go back to the hotel.
Later that night, we walked around the White House, and I’m not sure how this happened, but we ended up on the wrong side of some gates, and a Secret Service agent wearing a bullet-proof vest outside his clothes appeared and asked us to leave.
We made no plans for dinner. We just ate wherever we ended up. We went to breakfast when we woke up. We walked for blocks and blocks – long blocks – and neither of us complained. We sat at the bar. We talked to people we didn’t know.
It was a different trip. I’m not saying it was better, just different. The good news is we have gone on plenty of trips with our kids and can list the many things we loved about those days. They were glorious and wonderful, and were part of the reason I was so sad to see that stage of my life end.
But the great news is we’ve been reminded what a couples-only trip is like. And it’s fantastic.
The next few weeks at home were a little sad, but I did as I had hoped and over-scheduled our evenings and weekends. We went to street fairs and town festivals, took some cooking classes and went on several day trips. We attended a lecture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about a topic we knew nothing about. We even ventured out to concerts on some weeknights, which is difficult to do when you have children at home.
Joe and I had always made it a point to go out alone every Saturday night. I would tell the girls Joe was my boyfriend and he would say I was his girlfriend, and we wanted to “go out” together. We hoped to teach them that their relationship with their spouse would always be important, even if they had three little kids who needed lots of time and attention.
But now, this alone time is different. It’s almost like a reward for the incredible, exhausting work we just completed. The girls are still very much in our lives, and we still have a lot of incredible and exhausting work left to do as their parents. But all that dread I had about the empty nest? I think I forgot Joe would be there. So that makes for one fun nest as we begin this new stage. Our past stages have been pretty great, but this one might be too. I had no idea.