My husband took our youngest son to visit a college out of town last weekend. I stayed home. Then my aunt came to babysit me.
Normally, as the parent with a more flexible work schedule, I'm the one who would have gone. But this time, the guys finally got a chance to share a travel experience. So I made plans to have friends over for Sunday lunch. The day after I made the plans, I left my house, drove nearly to work, and was in an automobile wreck in which my car was totaled. I stayed overnight in the hospital for observation.
When I came home the next day, I became the observer: I saw the pieces of my life, the literal objects I touch on an everyday basis -- the shirts on hangars, the items on my desk, the shoes in my closet, all of it -- as if I had died and someone else was left to sort through them. It was an out-of-body experience, looking down at a nest that didn't have me in it. No children, no me. Just a house with a husband who might not be able to find stuff that was well organized for me, but not for him. There were systems I'd designed, using a short-hand born of necessity -- there was always someone or something else that needed tending to, and time was short.
Of the many things I saw about me in this new light, it wasn't the big things, but the small ones that irked me the most. Take my sock drawer, for instance -- it needed serious organizational help. I'd always meant to intertwine pairs, instead of rummaging through the drawer each morning looking for two that match, but never did. My few nightgowns were a close runner-up -- they were turning fifty shades of gray and I needed some new ones but never cared enough. And my purse...it was beyond shabby chic, especially after the accident.
And you know that saying about wearing good underwear in case of an accident? Right after mine, I vaguely remember thinking I was glad I had my better underwear on. And that I had shaved my legs. As if anyone but me cared about any of it and, if I had died, as if anyone would be saying She had nice underwear on and shaved her legs.
A week later, still nursing injuries and trying to forget the whole dark, twisted slow-motion series of events, I found myself saying Yes to my aunt's offer to come to town and take care of me while the guys were away. It would be a girls' weekend -- minus the dresses, pedicures, and parties, of course. But had my aunt not come, I'm pretty certain I'd have never left my bed. For 48 hours straight.
Through the years I hadn't spent more than a night apart from my youngest son. He wasn't big on sleepovers, and I was the parent who took him places. This trip was important and beneficial for both of us. He had to learn to rely more on himself and his instincts -- and his father. I had to learn to focus on myself and not feel guilty about it.
My house is not large, but it seemed enormous while they were away. All the hustle and bustle that comes with having kids -- the routines, the appointments, the school work, meals and groceries -- stopped. The kitchen went largely unused, save for the making-of-the-tea ritual, followed by the-taking-of-a piece-of-chocolate from the domed glass cake dish, followed by the tea sipping and chocolate eating. My aunt and I spent most of the time lying on couches in what she dubbed the Woman Cave. We wore pajamas and bulky bathrobes, rented several movies, had conversations, took naps, had more conversations, knitted, did some reading, and watched the Grammy Awards while flipping through Vanity Fair and People.
Then, on Monday afternoon, my aunt left and I found myself talking to my dog. He tried as best he could to read People, but mostly just because there were treats I buried between the pages.
When the guys got home that night, they seemed to be more in sync than I'd noticed before. They moved in tandem, unpacking their things, doing laundry, telling me stories. And I saw them in a whole new light, much as I had seen myself after the accident.
I don't profess to know why things happen when they do -- only that this thing happened while I was transitioning to an empty nest, and my kids to a life of their own. I now understand, more clearly than I ever did before, that I won't always be here for my kids. And that while I'm still here I'm going to have to learn to accept what I cannot control and learn to control a whole lot less.
And to hell with the sock drawer.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.
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 year 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.
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