Empty Nester: What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

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I am an empty nester who loves being a mom. I don’t love my career anymore, and now I have to figure out, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

Coping with the quiet house and no fussing over meals and no soccer games has left a big hole for me, but that’s just part of the darkness. I was on committees at my daughter’s school and did morning carpool when she was younger.

We watched old videos of her with Kleenex and popcorn tossed on the floor, right before her send-off to college. How could this go so fast? I never thought about empty nest until she was a junior in high school. Wouldn’t have done me any good to plan ahead—I still can’t plan to not cry.

She is my only baby, so there will be no more little girl twirling, singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” calling my name every day, or bounding in for a quick bite and then heading off to practice. No friends dropping in for pizza or study groups, no Halloween costume changes, no school events to see those friends I, too, looked forward to hanging around with and talking about our kids with—that automatic belonging club of momhood.  

To be honest, although I could fake it and put on the brave, it’s-no-big-deal hat, I cried and cried when I drove away from her standing on the brick steps of her freshman dorm. She didn’t see me sobbing. I didn’t see her blow me a kiss.

For weeks I had no energy or motivation to talk much or go out. I did work and my have-to list, but then I hid in bed and cried and wondered if I should call her or wait for her to call me. I didn’t want to interfere in her new life, but gee, why didn’t she call or email me? I let myself just be a slug; my exercise routine flattened.

My husband asked how I was doing, and I told him I actually felt depressed. I was so surprised at feeling lonely for her and not having much energy or smiles. The buildup of her graduation, her party at our home, all the hugs and tears, and then the excitement and anxiety of moving her into the brick freshman dorm, ended, and we were silenced by the emotions and the drain of the intensity and joy.

The letdown was like a gutter ball down thae narrow bowling alley: thud.

After about two months, I began walking, just to get out of myself. My daughter and I talked about once a week and emailed. My husband and I saw more movies than ever in our life. We tried playing Monopoly after work, and then switched to Scrabble. We meandered with no “zippety-doo-dah” and didn’t have all the details of life to fill up time or fill up our conversations. Eventually we got bored after all this nothingness, and we began to ask ourselves, “Now what? What about us? What do we want to do with our life?” That was a big question that we answered with one plan.

We decided to take turns planning something to do for the weekend. Both of us liked taking a day drive to the beach, going for a walk, reading there, and having lunch away from the silent house. That helped us slow down and figure out our wish list from the inside out.

I don’t know about my job yet; I’m making a list of possibilities. I’m looking forward to parents’ weekend and, of course, not looking forward to the pain of goodbye, again. It will be fun to see her room and meet her new friends. My friends thought it would be fun for us to remodel. Absolutely not—too much work for us. My brother-in-law said we should take a trip to Greece—too far away for now.

I think I will wait and see who I am and who my daughter is in her new, independent first year away. I feel this pressure that I am supposed to dance into a new, exciting, romantic life with my husband and get going with my new free time. That is not me today!

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