As of this week, several good friends are officially empty nesters. They’re not handling it as well as they expected, not relishing the calm or quite sure how to handle their perceived diminished mom duties.
I’ve been rather smug about their anguish. Assured them their offspring would be fine and, pretending to be funny, suggested they should worry more about themselves. Oh yes. I am an official “been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the spare bedroom” empty nest survivor. Ultimately, I mastered the art of being a mom with grown children who without hesitation can assure the offspring, “You’re welcome to visit, I love having you home, but don’t get too comfortable, you’re not staying.”
Well, except for the one who, with girlfriend and three dogs arrived in San Angelo Friday, refugees from Corpus Christi where Hurricane Harold was headed fast and furious. Now, I want them to stay here, where it’s safe. And, oh yeah, they’re sleeping in the youngest son’s spare bedroom.
There’s no way to adequately prepare for the empty nest. There’s such a suddenness to it all. For years I’d been buying three gallons of milk a week, ravioli by the case and enough cereal to (it would seem) feed an army. But without warning, that morning came when I was standing with the refrigerator door open and I realized there was a half-gallon of milk on the shelf with an expiration date two weeks past.
“How can this be,” I wondered. The phenomenon was completely foreign to me, so inconceivable that I knew if I poured the old milk down the drain I would cry for sure – not about spilled milk, and not about anything I would dare admit to.
I have three sons. The youngest is 30, left home for Marine boot camp two weeks after he graduated from Brownwood High School in 2006, four days before he turned 19. The oldest son, eight years his senior, had left home years before but returned for a sort of respite and regroup. With that mostly accomplished, he was packed and gone again within weeks of the youngest son’s leaving. The middle son finished two years of college at Lon Morris in East Texas, came home for the summer, and by fall had left his stuff (much nicer newspaper appropriate word than what I’m actually thinking) and moved into the dorm at Howard Payne University, less than 3 miles away but far enough. Anyway, said son was busy enough it counted for him being out of the house. Sure there were occasional Sunday nights when he and his quarter-less buddies would show up to play cards in my garage and use my washer and dryer, but I took that as an encouraging sign I was still needed.
One would have thought that as a mother I would have expected that one day all of the boys would be gone from home. I guess I did fully expect it. What I hadn’t done and couldn’t do was imagine it.
There simply was no framework for an honest comparison. Besides the fact I always enjoyed having the boys around, I couldn’t remember life when they weren’t around. Our normal had been discussions that were only rarely quiet and calm, day-to-day chaos, constant motion and activity. Sure, I’d dreamed of a quieter, calmer, less turmoil-ruled household, but I couldn’t see it lasting for any more than an afternoon.
The reality wasn’t really very pretty, either. Let’s just say, if in 2006 there had been that summer of 2015 problem and I would have been denied access to Blue Bell ice cream – Well we don’t have to go there, so let’s don’t.
Gradually I adjusted, however. My cousin came for a visit and suggested changing one of the bedrooms to a craft room, which was easy enough to do. My friend got me on a self-nurturing kick so I devised a whole system of cooking meals for one; I joined clubs and served on committees; I learned to like – OK love – not waiting up or sleeping with one ear tuned to the boys’ comings and goings; but came and went as I pleased.
At Christmas we were all home, together, and it was wonderful. Funniest thing though, when the last one said he didn’t have to leave as soon as he thought, he could stay another night, I said, “It’s OK. I know you have things to do. I can manage.
“But I hope you’ll visit again. Soon.”
Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.