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I’m Not Ready for the Empty Nest

Belmont, North Carolina, USA - April 17, 2013: The American Dream is pictured in this iconic image of a row of new, Victorian-style homes in the Eagle Park neighborhood development. Most American homes are now built on smaller lots with sidewalks and tree-lined streets in the suburbs of large cities.

I’m not ready to have an empty nest. In a few years I’ve gone from shoving my kids out the door for preschool and elementary school to looking forward to having my “birds back in the nest” after a summer without them.

The lack of laundry, cooking, and food shopping was a nice bonus while the kids were gone this summer. My car rarely needed gas as I was only driving a short commute to work and back or to the supermarket. And I had total control over our one TV. I went out with friends on weeknights and didn’t have to worry about carpools and curfews.

But the house was really quiet—too quiet. When my children Abby and Eytan were little I treasured the time I had when they were in school. I worked from home for several years so I’d get them on the school bus, walk my geriatric beagle with a friend for some adult company, and then I’d go home and work. Oftentimes my screened in porch was my office, my dog was great company, and I could just think and work without interruptions. My mind craved those long stretches of time where I could focus on my work and get something done.

I didn’t plan for both kids to be gone all summer. I knew Abby would be gone, working as a CIT at a sleepaway camp for six weeks. Eytan was home for a week of drivers ed, and we had a lot of quality time in the car and I welcomed his hundreds of questions about driving. I was looking forward to some one on one time with him, when he was out of his sister’s shadow. But due to a quirk in his visitation schedule with his father, a week at soccer camp, and my really poorly timed trip out of town, I saw Eytan for a total of thre days in four weeks.

It was a good glimpse into what my future might look like. And I didn’t like it.

As much as I had craved the peace and quiet when the kids were younger, I now missed their jokes, sarcasm, Abby’s eye rolling, and Eytan’s bad puns. I missed their jokes about Game of Thrones, which I don’t even understand, and I missed their presence, their energy, and even their arguing.

When Abby and Eytan were toddlers, a day seemed like a year. By 5:00 p.m., when they were in full meltdown mode, I would wish it was 8:00 and bedtime. I would count down the hours until bath time and bedtime. It wasn’t that I didn’t love them; it was that the tedium, sheer physical energy, and constant vigilance that little kids require really took its toll on me. I felt like I spent half my day answering “why” and the other half preparing and cleaning up after meals.

Now they don’t ask my “why.” I’ve been replaced by Google and Wikipedia. Abby and Etyan have their own lives and friends apart and away from me. It is completely normal for them at their ages to start pulling away from the family “tribe” and begin to make their way in the world. And honestly, I’m OK with that.

But a year from now Abby leaves for college. The dorm room displays now in Bed, Bath and Beyond put me in tears. Eytan is going to learn to navigate high school. When I look at the clock in the evenings we are long past 8:00. The days that dragged on are now running into each other. They are ready to take their next steps, but I am not.

How did I get here? Where exactly have the past 17 years gone?

I now know why my parents and their friends were teary eyed at every single bar and bat mitzvah in the ‘80s and every wedding in ‘90s when the DJ played “Sunrise Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” I don’t remember growing older. When did they?


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