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Amy Ruhlin Headshot

Will We Be Happy In Our Empty Nest?

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It's a cool morning with the first hint of fall in the air so I drink my coffee outside on our back patio. I look at our overgrown rose bushes and thinning mulch beds but what I see is my children when they were young. I see them helping us plant shrubs in our new lawn and spread pine straw around our flower beds. I see them hiding Easter eggs behind the maple tree. I see them holding my husband's toolbox as we hammered nails into the towering pines to build their tree house; it is still there but the wood is beginning to rot. I see the empty space along the row of cedars where the swing set once stood, then the trampoline.

I walk around the corner of the house, along our stone path made of hand painted rocks and I see the step that my daughter made , the stone with the words "Love Blooms Here" spelled out in glass beads. The 16 years that we have spent living in this house are palpable here in our backyard; there was magic here. I cherish the memories but I also feel my grief. As I walk back into the house I notice that a few leaves on the Dogwood tree have turned from faded green to bright orange.

I notice a stack of envelopes on the kitchen table; they are addressed to my son and they are full of letters and fliers from colleges. I see the envelope that is stamped with the word "Accepted." In eight short months our son will graduate from high school and the empty nest will become a reality for my husband and me. We are planning to sell the house, to leave the suburbs, to create a new life for ourselves. We talk it up but I secretly wonder if we can really do it, if we will be happy, if our lives will have the same zest, the same magic as we've known all of these years raising our children in this house.

I walk upstairs and I notice the worn carpet. It is matted down from where my daughter sat on the floor of her bedroom for years playing with her dolls, giving them their own voices, making them come to life. It is worn from where she and her brother sat for many summers in the hallway building rock houses, giving each rock a name, their young voices making stone come alive.

I think about the phone call I got early this morning from the carpet store. Our order is in: 159 square yards of new carpet to be installed in the entire upstairs; the old carpet will be ripped out and carried away, the new carpet will help to sell the house.

I sit down at my computer and I see a quote that someone has just sent me. I notice that it is by Roald Dahl, our favorite children's author; we often read his books together as a family. I read the quote:

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

It is a quote that I know my 20-year-old daughter likes so I copy and paste and send it to her. A few minutes later she sends me a response: a single small black heart created by typing two different keys; to me, this is magic.

I look at the heart that she made and my own heart lifts. I believe our magic is not over. It is not something that ends when my children are grown, but rather, something that they help me to see. I believe that it will be there in my next act, in our empty nest. I believe that at the age of 50 and beyond, we can still see with glittering eyes.