Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Becoming a Part-Time Empty Nester

"So you're a part-time empty nester now!" my friend Bridget joked on my youngest child's first day of kindergarten.

I laughed and told her I was surprised with how uneventful the transition was. When my son climbed on the bus on that first morning, I waved goodbye and skipped back into the house to work on my million mile long to-do list and didn't have any qualms about it. 

Everything seemed strangely fine. I seemed fine.

A few weeks later another friend asked how I was handling having all my babies in school, and when my eyes started leaking in the middle of my answer (weird!) I realized I wasn't as fine as I thought.

It's not that I don't love the morning quiet. Cleaning up the house in the morning and knowing it will stay that way for six hours is nothing short of amazing. And it isn't like my little boy has even left me yet: he still cuddles with me and laughs at my corny jokes after school like he did before. 

But still, I felt a profound loss I couldn't quite name. I finally figured it out weeks later, in line at the grocery store watching an exhausted young mom with a cart full of Gerber puffs playing peek-a-boo with her 9-month-old.

I'd been standing there staring off into space, but not her. She could fill every spare second  in fact, she had to fill every spare second  connecting with the little person who mattered most in the world. 

When you have little ones at your side all the time, you don't have to go looking for moments like that one in line at the grocery store, they find you. They're relentless at finding you. They find you in the middle of the night, they paw at you while you make dinner, they pound on the bathroom door shrieking until you let them in. It's overwhelming, because that's what motherhood is: too much of a good thing.

And for the first time in my career as a mom, I don't have access to those moments 24/7. It was once inconceivable to me that meaningful connection with my kids would require effort and planning. But here we are, squeezing it in between school and their various sports and activities.

When my kids were still little, I thought women who raved about their kids growing older were lying to themselves. They'd say how great it was not to mop up spilled milk at the dinner table and finally decorate the bottom third of the Christmas tree (with breakable ornaments, even!) and I'd think, So what? That's a sad consolation prize.

Now that I'm in their place, doing the same thing, I realize I was only half-right. Given the choice between a solo trip to the bathroom and the unconditional love and affection of a toddler, I'd choose the toddler every time. It's no contest.

But I don't get to make that choice, and it's not a contest anyway. Those older moms were just choosing to find the good in their current stage of life, whatever it was.

If I'm going to thrive in, and maybe even enjoy, my new life as a part-time empty nester, I'm going to need to celebrate the good things about where I am right now.

It doesn't come naturally to me, delighting in a life that isn't filled from sunup to sundown with hugs and kisses from a sticky 3-year-old. The joys, as well as the hard parts, of raising big kids are different.

Moms wrangling toddlers in Target, if I look a little too long or smile a little too hard when you pass by, please forgive me. I remember so fondly the place you're in right now and always will. But now it's time to move from living those days to smiling at photographs of them as the kids and I plan our next adventure together.

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Diana Dye said...

Thank you for this. I'm 6 months from this moment and I'm already dreading it. Luckily we have half-day kindergarten so he and I will be easing into the transition. But it's the end of an era. That's huge!

Mostly I'm worried about being bored. Not unbusy, just too quiet and lonely and all my tasks will be done without the magic of a 5-year-old.

So please keep processing it here for me to read. I'll need it.

PurpleSlob said...

Yep, it's quite the change!! Now I've gone thru it twice!! Not really any easier as an Omie!! But, it's life. Like you said, you have to determine to find the good parts!