12/23/2012 10:02 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

Pre-Empt: A Mother's Metamorphosis

It's just after midnight in Texas and I'm lying in my bed, eyes wide open, staring into the darkness. My husband is sound asleep beside me. The lists I so often fall asleep creating --Mother's Lists if you will-- are getting shorter. On this December morning, just over 20 years after my first child was born, I'm in the unfamiliar position of not being "on call." I can't hear the shower running upstairs, or the hum of videogames, or the thump of a stereo. I can't smell pizza burning in the toaster oven, or the sound of the garage door rising and falling. The hall light outside our bedroom door, once always on, is off. There are no text messages asking for curfew extensions. It's just the two of us, and our dog Benji, now 60 in human years. Our oldest son is away at college 1400 miles from home. Our youngest, a senior in high school, is spending the night at a friend's.

I close my eyes and begin to visualize the changes that I know are coming, but up until now had mostly, successfully ignored.

What's clear in the darkness is by this time next year, nothing about my life will be the same. If Act I was before the kids and Act II was with them at home, I'm headed for Act III whether I like it or not. Reprising the life I had before them is not an option - once they entered the world I saw everyone and everything differently. My heart no longer merely beat, it sang.

A new list begins to take form. It's filled with mostly unanswered questions.
  • Will my current way of living still be relevant in a year?
  • Do I stay in this house?
  • What about my career?
  • What about finances? Insurances?
  • How do I shop for groceries for two?
  • What will I make for dinner? Do I want dinner?
  • Can I eat Oreos 24/7?
  • What about chores? Whom do I yell at now?
  • Will I make friends who are not the parents of my kids' friends?
  • Will my husband and I date each other again?
  • Will I become a couch potato?
  • Will I travel? Do I enjoy traveling?
  • What's travel like when you don't need to eat at restaurants with pasta, pasta, and more pasta?

So this is it -- the beginning of the end of Act II. My favorite Act so far. The toughest one, but the most rewarding. This is the end of last minute runs to pick up poster board and required reading. Of cautionary notes from the school about overdue homework, absences, and tardies. Of writing notes to the school that begin with Please excuse...

This is the end of the ritual of making breakfasts and packing lunches and saying, "Have a good day." Of pizza nights and movie nights, of attending school functions and cheering from the sidelines. Of annual doctor visits and childhood vaccinations, of soothing bruises and fevers, of buying cookie dough and wrapping paper and popcorn for school fundraisers. Of choosing school pictures and finding dirty socks under the beds.

This is the end of making wish lists that revolve around being a mom (and that never came true):

  1. Take a cross country road trip with the family in a Winnebago.
  2. Take a train trip with the family through Europe.
  3. Get a an enamel pot that goes from stovetop to oven so I can make pot roasts braised to perfection, and that don't look like shoe leather on top.
  4. Get a good set of knives.
  5. Build a laundry room with a room of its own. And tables to fold the laundry on. And put a stereo in so I can dance to Al Green while doing the laundry. And a door so nobody can see me dance to Al Green.

And what about time? How will I measure it in Act III if not by school years and summer breaks and notches on the pantry door for every inch my children grow?

How will I manage my time without the framework of raising children?

I'll do it in stages, that's how. I'll transition, and call that transition my Pre-Empt and it starts now. I'll work through my new kind of list so that by next Christmas I'll be ready and willing to fully embrace Act III with the same enthusiasm I did parenthood. But maybe with more sleep.

Join me every Monday for more on my transition from full house to empty nest.