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Amy Ruhlin Headshot

Life in the Empty Nest

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My nest has been empty for three weeks. The first night was the hardest -- the night my husband and I drove home from dropping our son, our youngest, off at college. Neither of us spoke a word in the car. Speech was too small, so we sat in silence, but I could feel us moving, together through the seismic shift.

When we got home, I sat down on the sofa and finally, I wept. My husband wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

"You did a good job," he told me. "You were a good mom."

I heard his words and the vise around my body began to loosen its grip.

Love comes to us in different forms, but when it comes to us through our children, we seem to claim ownership. Mine, we think. But the truth of it is, they are only passing through. And still, we give it our all, so it's hard to let go.

That night, my husband and I both had dreams about our son. Nightmares, actually. In my husband's dream, he sat on a beach and saw our son being attacked by sharks but he could not save him. In my dream, I sat on the floor with my son cuddled up to my side. He was small and frail and afraid as we watched a man in the room circle us with a loaded gun.

In the light of morning, I knew that our job of protecting our son was over. And despite the bad dreams, or maybe because of them, I knew that our son was safe and that he was now able to protect himself.

My husband went to work. I work from home, so I was on my own for the first full day in our new nest, a day that I had been dreading. But as I moved through it, I found my rhythm. I worked and I stretched and I piddled, but mostly, I felt grateful. I walked through the empty rooms of our house but they felt full: of love, of memories, of possibilities.

In the evening, I heard my husband's car putt-putt into our garage and I leapt up to greet him at the door. This surprised me, as I haven't done any leaping in a long time.

"Hey!" we said in unison, as he walked through the door. I felt 26 again. And I could tell that he did too.

We had a roaring good time together in our 20s, my husband and I. We married, began our careers, renovated a house and at the age of 30, had our first child. I thought those early days would last forever.

"Wanna go out for tacos and margaritas?" my husband asked me. I smiled and grabbed my purse and we got back into his car.

At the restaurant, the waitress offered each of us the 32 oz. sized margaritas and we laughed when she brought them to the table. Neither of us had had a drink in that large of a frosty mug since our early days together.

Over the next few weeks we went out for mimosa brunches, drove our boat across the entire length of the large lake near our home under the moonlight, visited a new blues club to hear a jazz harpist, had a spur-of- the-moment weekend beach getaway and sold the family car.

Our nest is different, but it is not empty. All the good stuff is still here: love and hope and joy and laughter. It feels a lot like it did in our 20's, when it was just the two of us. But this time, we know that these days will not last forever and that we are only passing through. We know that there will be more seismic shifts and how lucky we will be if we can continue to move through them together. And we know that a time that is often seen as empty, is actually the richest time of all.

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The two of us in our 20's