Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Empty Nest Musings

  A former colleague mused recently about the emptying of her nest, though she didn't care for the term empty-nester. It's a lovely piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Read it.
  I've got four years to go, but the impending end of a phase -- official momhood -- is never far from my mind. I think of it as the approach of my second retirement, when all the time consumed by mom stuff will no longer beckon - at least not until Thanksgiving break and winter recess. I'm not necessarily sad. It seems rather exciting to finally see the fruit of so many years of labor. But it will certainly be different. Even one child gives a house an energy, a noisy bustle that nothing else can replace.

  Of course, if he goes to a college nearby, perhaps the rhythm won't be all that different. I went to the University of Kentucky, in my hometown of Lexington. I lived on campus that first year. Technically, my parents had emptied the nest. But they were both professors at UK, so I saw them often -- even tried to get homework help with an essay I waited til the last minute to write, until Mom, in her white lab coat, said, "Sorry, it's all on you now." (Her actual words, though, were tinged with a great deal more annoyance that I, now a full-fledged college student, would really expect her to break from her research to edit an English paper.) Weekends always meant a 15-minute drive home to wash the week's worth of dirty clothes, eat a home-cooked meal and hang out for a while in my old room before going out with friends. Those early years of college  felt more like a series of long sleepovers, with family never far.

   I never really felt I left home until my junior year in college, when I had an internship at the Detroit Free Press. My mom drove me to that bleak city and deposited me there one May. As she drove away, I never felt so lonely. I think my mother had it easier. She had a home and a busy job to occupy her. By then, I had been in college for three years, so she and my dad were used to my absence from the home front. This internship didn't change much for them. Or so it seemed to me.
  I, on the other hand, had to find my way by public transportation to downtown Detroit. For a Bluegrass girl, that was huge. I had never ridden a bus before, certainly not by myself. I had to buy groceries -- no campus cafeteria. I used to walk with a wire cart to the nearby market, passing through neighborhoods still deciding which way they were headed on the socio-economic scale. My roommate, another intern, was not exactly friendly.
  But just as my parents had adjusted to the new tempo at home, I too came to at least like my time in Detroit -- new friends, new cuisines, new experiences -- if not the commute to work. I was OK. I had survived this appetizer to independence.
   Four years from now, it will be my turn to launch a child. I think he'll be OK. And I will be too.

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