Just before my daughter left for college last year, my doctor warned me that I might feel down for a while. It’s normal, she said, when the last kid leaves home for mothers to feel a little depressed. That’s ok, I told her, I’ve planned for it. I’ve been saving money to redecorate! She thought I was joking, but I wasn’t.
Last August I flew out to Florida with my daughter to help her get settled into her dorm. Since she could only take what fit into her suitcase, we had a lot of shopping to do. Florida in August is hot and unbearably muggy, but I never got to spend time on one of the beaches. All I saw of her college town was one store after another as we joined the horde of parents and their 18-year olds shopping for dorm furniture, mini-refrigerators, linens, school supplies, and more. After three days of non-stop consumerism, she moved into her dorm room and we went to the opening day of orientation for families. As the parents and their kids sat together listening to the college president speak about new beginnings, I heard more than a few sniffs and saw plenty of teary eyes. I wasn’t one of them. I love my daughter dearly, but I was also excited for her. I still remember that excitement of the adventure called college. She was very happy and I was happy for her, too. Besides, in this day of cell phones and e-mail and skype, I knew we’d stay in touch.
I returned home exhausted. Luckily, I had taken an extra day off work to recover. I went to my closet and took out the items I had been accumulating the last month or so – new bed linens, new kitchen stuff, and more. Whenever I had seen something I liked over the summer, I had purchased it but not opened it. I was saving everything for my first official day as an empty nester. I enjoyed unwrapping it all, making up my new bed and putting out the new toaster and microwave and other miscellaneous kitchenwares. My recent purchases looked lovely. The house was clean and quiet. I was all by myself with just the dogs for company. It felt peaceful.
Anticipating the empty nest stage of life, I had looked for some books and articles on the subject over the past year. Every single one I picked up focused on reconnecting as a married couple with no children at home. None of them, I found, focused on the single parent. Odd really, given how common it is. Fortunately, I have single friends who have gone through this before and they all assured me how good life is with independent adult children. I enjoyed that first semester with both kids at college, not accountable to anyone for meals, not obligated to chauffeur them around. Once cleaned, the house stayed that way. I still had to clean up after shedding dogs, but that was it. It was a relief to have so few responsibilities.
It didn’t last. My son moved back home in December due to his depression issues. Then came the fire and we had to move out of our home into a rental house. My daughter returned for the summer. My rental nest was full. I enjoyed having them back, but I also missed my privacy and solitude. And then two weeks ago … my daughter returned to college and my son felt ready to reestablish his independence and continue with his studies. There were bureaucratic stumbling blocks along the way and many calls and texts home, but finally, finally, the first week of college has come and gone. The kids are settling back into their college lives and seem happy. I breathe a sigh of relief. I have my empty nest back.