Wide Awake: Empty Nest, Again
Saying goodbye more than once doesn’t seem fair 

I have entered a new parenting phase, and I’m not sure what to call it. Maybe it’s empty-nest repeat, which doesn’t exactly make sense. But when you have kids in their early 20s, it totally does. 

In the years leading up to my youngest leaving for college, the anticipation of having an empty nest hit me hard. I was keenly aware that I was about to experience a great loss. And then it happened, and it was really difficult. I wrote about it (quite a few times in this column), thought about it often and talked about it with friends who understood. I also shared the pain with Joe, who was feeling the same way. 

Then about three weeks passed – three weeks. And things were pretty good.  

I discovered life with Joe was wonderful. Plus, knowing our daughters were happy and responsible and productive was comforting. Joe and I got into a routine and started enjoying the ease of life without kids at home. We took weekend trips and had dinner sitting at a bar a few nights a week. We connected with our kids every day, usually in a family group text, so I still felt they were part of our lives – only the workload had lessened and, to be honest, that was awesome. I got past the heartache I experienced when our youngest left.  

But then Klein came home for about a year, and then left.  

And soon after, Marirose came home for winter break, and then left.  

And just this past May, Maura graduated, came home for about six weeks, and then left.  

So three more times, I felt the loss. You hear people joke, “Oh, you think your kids move out, but they come back!” and usually they chuckle and roll their eyes. I understand that. But when these young adults came back, it was enjoyable. They were happy to be home. (I think they realized how nice our home is compared to where they had been living.) They were fun to be around. We made almost nightly trips to the custard stand near our house. We had dinner at the restaurants they had been missing, and sat on the couch and watched all the “Queer Eye” episodes on Netflix.   

In the days before they were set to leave, the dread set in again. The part where you have to kiss them goodbye and walk away  

is especially difficult. The loss is right there in front of your eyes. 

And this time with Maura, it seems really different and really painful.  

My oldest and youngest – Klein and Marirose – are sharing an apartment in New York. Marirose is in school, Klein is working there. I often wonder how long the attraction to living in the city will last. So for the two of them, I can’t see the permanence. Maybe they do, but it just isn’t clear to me.  

Maura, on the other hand, started a job in North Jersey and is renting a two-bedroom condo. It has a clubhouse with a gym and a pool. It’s quite nice. And it has occurred to me that when you’re 23, you may find that nicer than your suburban home where two people in their 50s live. In fact, you might think it’d be nice to live there forever, so you never go home again. Your departure from the nest is permanent.  

And here I am again.  

I know how raising a child goes. Flying the nest is what is supposed to happen. In fact, Joe told me I should be happy at this accomplishment. (Of course, he cried standing at the grill cooking dinner the night before Maura left.) But just because it’s good and natural doesn’t mean it isn’t also sad. Now I can see the permanence, and it’s a killer. 

I’m sure I’ll get past this too. Maybe it will take longer than three weeks though. Maybe I’ll get over it just in time for Marirose to graduate and then come home. And then leave again. 



We begin our Women’s Empowerment Series this month on Sept. 12. It’s one of my favorite events of the year – I hope you can join us!  Learn more here.

September 2018
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