The expression “Empty Nest” in the context of parenting generally refers to sending kids off to college [one of my very best pieces of writing, if I do say so myself.] There is no denying that this is a definite milestone. They’ve graduated from high school. They can vote, enter into contracts, legally consent to medical care and sexual relations, even enlist in the Armed Forces. Technically, they are adults.
And the emptiness of the nest is legitimate. Less laundry to do; not as much noise; lower grocery bills (often counterbalanced by tuition, but that’s another story.) I don’t deny that it’s a big adjustment.
But it’s not entirely real, because it is often not permanent. They still come home for holidays, vacations, and summers. Their driver’s license still lists our address, as does their car registration and insurance. Their legal residence is usually still “home”.
Sometimes that changes after college graduation.
Sometimes they go off to graduate school confident that they are finding their own way in the world. Even when you go along to help find that first apartment, they take the lead. After a year, when they buy themselves a condo and get a cat (all the while refusing to take money from you), you know they are well and truly launched.
Sometimes they get married and set up housekeeping, including their own menagerie of cats, snakes, and other reptiles. Even if we happen to be helping out with student loan payments, it still counts. They’re not coming back.
And then there are the boomerangs. The ones who come back home after college or grad school and stay a while as they get started on their life. Nothing wrong with that, especially when they have a full time job, their own car, friends, activities, and schedule. It’s more like having a housemate than a kid, when general consideration (noise, hours, etc) is practiced by all parties. The difference is that this time, it’s more open ended.
But eventually the exam is passed; certification achieved. The soul-killing retail job is eagerly ditched in exchange for the professional one. Life continues, even while living at home. But however you cut it, however pleasant (and cheap) the situation may be, it’s still anathema to be “living with your mother.” And so the next steps begin.
House hunting ensues. A property is located. A deal is struck. A mortgage secured. Settlement is made and a truck is rented.
Moving day: the truck is loaded, unloaded, and re-loaded again for a final trip. This one is truly final, though. This time, he’ll be filing change-of-address forms for his driver’s license, car insurance, credit cards, and so on. He is moving to his new home. His. Not ours, which is to say mine. He’s outta here.
He’ll be back of course. Tonight, in fact, to watch the season finale of the Walking Dead, since he doesn’t get cable until Tuesday. But never the same. He’s gone.
I know they’ll still come to visit, but it’s just to visit. Home is elsewhere for all of them now. Now the nest is empty in a way it hasn’t really been before. There’s a new freedom to clean up, clear out, re-arrange, discard; maybe even consider downsizing.
Melancholy? Bittersweet? Regrets? Actually: no.
Because it’s time. They were all ready, and now the first to come is the last to go. Even as they fly away from my arms, I will always hold them deep in my heart.
But now I get to order new carpeting.