I remember the day I first realized that I was empty nest. You would think that it was after our last kid had moved on to college in August. For some reason, that never occurred to me. Maybe it was because the kids had been coming and going with their busy schedules that I was no stranger to an empty house. I remember feeling alone, the house being quiet, clean and the refrigerator remaining full.
I was excited to visit each of our college kids during their parent weekends which allowed us to travel to Tucson, Chicago and NYU in a very short period of time. Still no conscious recognition that I was an empty nester. I purged closets, cleaned out drawers, painted the baseboards and had lunch with friends. My life was no less busy but I did notice that I watched the clock waiting for my husband to get home at night.
It was now November , still no self awareness of the empty nest even though our freshman was showing signs of homesickness. All three kids flew in for the Thanksgiving holiday at different times. The first arrived on Monday night and the last arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The house was once again ramped up to full of energy, laughter, chaos, dirty clothes and mess. I couldn’t have been happier.
I remember entering the kitchen to find all three kids standing looking into an open refrigerator. They were just staring into the refrigerator with big smiles on their face. My inquiring mind wanted to know what they found so interesting. They jokingly called it the Church of Frigidaire. It had been summer since they had seen a refrigerator full of real food. The two elder students were kidding their younger sister. In previous years, she had told them they were crazy…but now she knew the beauty of real food and had joined their religious celebration. After a moment of thankful prayer, they grabbed food and took off for opposite ends of the house. Fortunately, I had spent the previous week baking and cooking some of their favorite go to foods. I took satisfaction in their delight.
The rest of the weekend was a blur of laughter, cooking, storytelling, football games, Christmas decorating and of course laundry. I felt whole. I was a mother hen with her chicks and I felt needed and loved.
All too soon Sunday arrived and the kids packed to return to their respective universities across the nation. It turns out that all of their flights left at approximately the same time so we would make only one trip to the airport. The car was loaded with suitcases, care packages of food and three well feed and clean clothed kids. I had made dozens of trips to the airport to drop off kids the past four years so I was on autopilot. As the car came to a stop, the doors swung open and ALL THREE KIDS jumped out of the car, grabbed their suitcases, gave me a kiss, high fived each other and took off for their check-ins.
Wait, what had just happened? Five minutes earlier we had been a family of 5 and now there were two parents standing by an empty car wondering what had just happened. Tears filled our eyes; we closed the doors and drove off. Not a word was said on the way home. We entered the empty house to see the remnants of the Thanksgiving break activities. Slowly we began the clean up still not talking or looking at each other.
It was official, we were empty nesters and it didn’t feel so good at that point. Monday morning would be even more difficult as my husband went back to work and the house was completely quiet and empty. I spent the day licking my emotional wounds as I finished the clean up. I knew that I needed a better plan for empty house syndrome. I vowed that I would do things differently the next time this scenario occurred.
I came up with a plan. I would have a special day planned for the first empty house day after a family gathering…especially when all the kids left at the same time. I would treat that day as my own personal holiday where I rest, reflect, relish the memories and rejuvenate. As a side note, I have found that it is a much easier adjustment if the kids leave at different times.
So for the last 3 years I have enjoyed amazing After Thanksgiving Empty House holidays. As Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season, last year I purchased tickets to Fioli’s Christmas Open House and Boutique for the following Monday. I went with a friend to see the beautiful Fioli mansion decorated to the hilt and purchased some new Christmas decorations.
After a leisurely lunch, we headed back home. I entered a clean, quiet home, brewed a cup of fresh tea, put on some Christmas music, started a fire and put my feet up. I felt content, whole and at peace. While I had enjoyed the most recent invasion of the kids for Thanksgiving vacation, I was glad to have my house back. I was getting used to and enjoying the empty nest syndrome. I realized that I loved both aspects of my life. I loved the wild family times but I also appreciated my personal time and fulfilling my personal desires and dreams.
Empty nest is a wonderful time to get back to your life after so much dedication to your kids and their busy lives. It isn’t the day to day empty nest that I find difficult. It is the first empty house day after a big family event that hits me in the gut.
How about you? How do you feel when the kids leave after a family event. Do you have a plan for your Personal After Thanksgiving Empty House holiday? Please leave me a comment and let me know how you deal with empty nest.