I remember those bittersweet days of shopping for school supplies with my daughters. The evening before school began I prepared a special meal, and we marveled how another summer had streaked passed like a flighty guest at a garden party.
Fireflies, pool games and beach trips: The moments that make up a life, like a chain of rainbow lanyards woven together in summer camp as a keepsake, are not so much for the kids as for the parents. I have a drawer full of them. They stare back at me like the photos of my children through the years, from a toddler's first taste of a vanilla ice cream cone to wading pools and tennis trophies to young adults that stand shoulder to shoulder with me.
At the dinner we'd talk of goals and share the things for which we were most grateful. Even with the gaiety I could sense a feeling of self-imposed pressure among my daughters in a world that was ever more competitive. As a parent, my objective was to counterbalance that urgency to reinforce that one's competition was one's individual journey.
In just a few years, the challenge for parents has become even more daunting as kids constantly measure themselves against the lives of their friends on Facebook. In the tidal wave of technology, how can parents imbue their children with the sense that the greater race is within them?
One of the pivotal milestones in a child's life, whether it's kindergarten or college, is the mixed anticipation of embarking on a new school year. It is a marked sense of moving forward and a chance to begin again with new teachers, books and classes. The unknown with a broad spectrum of possibilities.
In looking back, I saw parenting as a privilege that caused one to focus and find an elegant courage that superseded all personal expectation. The most essential wisdom to impart to one's children standing on the precipice of a new school year is integrity and perspective -- the attributes we as adults must summon.
I see brightly colored accessories, school supplies and dorm gear beckon from store windows everywhere. Mothers converse with each other on their mobile phones scheduling car pools as they push shopping carts.
I was a young mom, so I am a rather young empty nester. Both of my daughters are out of college. Ironically many of my friends have a varied range of family situations from small children in elementary school to those beginning college. The family landscape has changed. Are marketers aware that a 30-year-old woman with an 8-year-old has the same interests and concerns as a 50-year-old with a child of the same age?
I think back on the ironic tug-of-war of those years: We love them so much and want to give them everything, but in retrospect the greater gift is saying "no" more often when it comes to material things and "yes" to family meals void of texting devices.
Of course, the treasures are in recognizing opportunities that reinforce actions have consequences. For instance what happens when perfectly healthy kids who are old enough to know better forget their lunch? I might have given in once or twice, but after that my policy was to say, "That's a shame. I'm sure you can problem solve the situation. I hope you remember your lunch tomorrow."
School is a microcosm for life -- the greatest lessons learned are problem solving. Studies indicate that young people today will have more than nine careers in a lifetime. Creative reinvention is a skill to be honed.
Change is the new status quo.™
I look wistfully at the parents and kids gripping their checklists among the colored notebooks and pens fanned out among computer gear like a delectable smorgasbord.
It is irresistible!
I buy myself the largest box of Crayola crayons -- my toast to the courage it takes to be a grounded parent in these volatile times and to the children navigating a journey of knowledge and life lessons.
In the same way that volunteering at your child's school makes you part of a community and helps you make friends with fellow parents, volunteering at your local library, homeless shelter, or with a civic group will immerse you in a new community that includes neighbors and empty nesters.
Did you know that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't start writing books until her children were grown and with kids of their own? Take advantage of your empty nest and get involved in something that you have wanted to do and previously did not have enough time to do. Take a class, play a sport, or find a hobby.
If you've only ever done poorly paid part-time jobs while the children were at home (or if raising kids for 18 years was enough full time work in itself!), now you've got the chance to have a fresh start. Or you may have an ambition to run your own business -- the 'encore career' movement is rife with fresh faced entrepreneurs over 50. Now is the time to discover what passions live within you and pursue them to the bank!
Now that you're not responsible for getting a kid to school at 8 a.m. five days a week, explore the idea of exploring. Rejoice in the freedom you haven't had in years and see the world. Feel like seeing the pyramids? Versailles? Living in Costa Rica for a <strike> year</strike> week? Step to it amigo!
If an empty nest means anything, it's privacy. Rejoice in your long-deserved break from acting like a parent and act like an adult. Whether you're married or single, take the opportunity to reignite the sputtering spark in your relationship or get out there and carve out for yourself a love life worth living. It's true what they say, sex IS better after 50.