I’m Such a Smart Empty-Nester

I’m such a smart empty-nester!

Want me to tell you how much I know about empty nesting? Here’s how smart I am: I know absolutely nothing…nada…diddly. But the fact that I realize I know nothing about it makes me absolutely brilliant.

Remember when your kids were toddlers? You had survived the whole newborn and infancy thing, and so you felt pretty confident going into toddlerhood? And then, BAM…your kid knocked you right back into reality with a tantrum…or climbing up the stairs on the outside of the rail (it happened)…or pushed another kid down…or hurled a plate of food across the room.

Well, empty-nesting is a lot like that. Just when you move your kid into his/her new dorm or apartment, you think, “Wow! I got this! I am a pro! My kid is officially launched into adulthood, and my life is my own!”

Wrong…wrong…wrong.

What they forgot to tell you when you brought that child into the world is that your life will never be your own…never, ever again.

My husband and I were stupid enough to think we would get our daughter moved into college, and everything would be rainbows and confetti afterward. Nope. We could not have been more wrong. Soon after we dropped her off, she developed an infection where she had a heel blister, and because the doctor was afraid it would move into her Achilles’ tendon, she had to get an antibiotic injection, take oral antibiotics, and use a topical gel. Crisis averted. That was our first gut punch letting us know how stupid we are.

Soon thereafter, we went on vacation to the Bahamas thinking everything was great. We came home, and I had gallbladder surgery. I took a week to recover, and then, I went on a cruise with a friend from my college days. We had a great time. And then…the last night of the cruise, I received a call that our daughter had been in a car accident. Everything ended up being fine, but wow! Things were not going as expected.

That was just last weekend.

My husband and I had planned to leave this Tuesday to go to the Bahamas again but canceled the trip when we received a call that the resort restaurants were closed till November 1. At first, I was annoyed, but then it looked like Hurricane Fiona was going to move through the Bahamas this upcoming week, and I was glad we had canceled.

Here is the thing: we thought empty-nesting would be a walk in the park, but every plan we have made has been changed somewhere along the way. So I finally realized something: the only constant is change.

If you want to have a good empty-nesting experience, prepare to be flexible.

If you want to have a good empty-nesting experience, prepare to be flexible. That vacation you have planned? It might not happen, and if it does, you might have to come home early to help your newly launched child with a problem. Sleeping well at night? Don’t expect it to last. You’re likely to get at least one jarring late night call. Think you know where your college-age kid is all the time? Bahahahahaha…think again.

Here is how you will know you are a smart empty nester…

You will know you are a smart empty-nester when you realize and can admit to all your friends that you have no idea what you are doing and you likely won’t ever know. If we could have just admitted this freely when our kids were toddlers, we would be a lot better off. If I could have just said all along that I am learning on the job (as a parent), and I am an absolute novice, I would have looked like the smartest parent in the history of the world.

As it is, I had to learn that I don’t know a damn thing.

If you’re going to be an empty-nester soon, hold onto your hat. Enjoy the ride, because you will never know what is around the corner…just like when your kids were infants, toddlers, elementary school age, middle schoolers, and high school students. Admit it. You were and still are as clueless as I am.

The sooner you can admit it, the smarter you are.

No News is Good News

No news is good news.

I have learned a lot in the past month as an empty-nester, but the biggest lesson I have learned? No news is good news.

We moved our daughter in with a roommate, counseled her through sorority recruitment, cheered her on as she went to her first college classes, and checked in with her several times a day after she had her first college medical emergency. All that has happened in the past month…less than 30 days, actually. There have been some days we have spoken with her several times, but mostly, we receive texts…usually with happy face emojis and lots of exclamation points. We know she is happy when we get those.

But we have learned something else along the way. We have learned there will be days we don’t hear her voice. We might even just get one text with “hi.” But from that, we have learned that the less we hear from her, the happier she is.

There was one day soon after sorority Bid Day that she called me sounding a little down. She sounded like she was doubting herself. She sounded like she was questioning her decision to attend my alma mater. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, the day before classes started. I remember where I was sitting…in a golf cart at a dock in Hope Town, Bahamas, while I waited for a ferry to take us (me and my husband) across the harbor to climb to the top of the lighthouse. We missed the first ferry and the second while I talked with our daughter, listening to what she was saying and offering words of encouragement. I reminded her that I had warned her this would happen. There would be days she would feel a little homesick. I offered some suggestions on things to improve her mood, and soon thereafter, my husband and I were on our way over to the lighthouse. While we enjoyed the view from the top of the lighthouse, we talked about how sad she had sounded. I assured my husband that what our daughter was feeling was completely normal…she would be feeling better soon.

However, I didn’t expect to answer the phone six hours later to hear her happily announcing to me, “I love this place!” She had made it over the hump…and in just six hours, she was happy. We laughed with her over the phone for a few minutes, but after that, she didn’t call us for a couple of days.

At breakfast two days later, my husband asked if I had heard from her. I said, “No.” He replied, “That worries me.” But then I reminded him that she called us when she was feeling down, and I felt sure she would call us again if she needed encouragement. Clearly, the fact that she wasn’t reaching out to us meant she was happy. I resisted the urge to call her to check, and soon thereafter…before lunch…she called and announced how much she loves her sorority, her classes, her roommate, and her friends!

I remembered taking her to two different soccer camps when she was younger. While she was at one camp, I heard from her many times a day…she was very unhappy and wanted to come home, but I suggested she make it through the camp just to prove to herself she could. She did. And then, a year or two later, she wanted to go to a different soccer camp with a different friend. In fact, it was a soccer camp at the University of Alabama, where she is enrolled as a freshman now! While she was in that camp, I went to visit my mother. On the second day, my mother asked if I had heard from her, and when I told her I hadn’t, she said, “Well, that’s good.” My mother, who had far more parenting experience than I did, knew…no news is good news. In fact, when I got there to pick up our daughter at the end of the camp, I could barely drag her away from her friends there!

And now, she’s in college. Yesterday, I texted her and said, “You might need to call your girl to get a hair appointment.” Her reply? “I’m not coming home anytime soon.” And you know what? It was like music to my ears! I knew at that moment that she is truly happy, because she isn’t missing home at all! She’s got this!

No news is good news.

Now I’m Getting Nervous

Now I’m getting nervous…

It’s no secret that I have been looking forward to my daughter’s high school graduation. She has been at the same independent school since she was four years old, so she really thinks she is ready for graduation. Plus, she is an only child, so when she graduates and goes off to college, we become empty-nesters. We start a new phase of our lives. It’s a phase we are excited about.

And up until now, I’ve been nothing but excited. I have been looking forward to summer vacations. I have been excited about how much she is going to love college. I have been looking forward to the adventures my husband and I will have…traveling to different places…the possibility of living somewhere else (not right away, of course, because we know our daughter needs to be able to come back home during her freshman year). There’s a lot to look forward to.

But earlier today, I was talking with a friend whose only child, a daughter, is a sophomore in college, and she gave me a warning, “No matter what you think right now, you are going to miss that girl when she goes to college.” And it hit me. She’s right. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her like crazy. We have been together almost every single day of her life. Soon, she will be leaving me behind. I’m happy for her, but now I’m nervous for me. It’s uncharted territory for me.

I wrote recently about how I have one job. I’m a mom. And that has been my one job for eighteen years. But now that’s about to change. I’m not officially being “fired” from that job, but the job description is going to change. She won’t need me daily; frankly, she probably hasn’t needed me daily for a long time. However, once she goes off to college several hundred miles away, I will likely go months without seeing her in person or giving her a hug! She will be fine. I’m worried about me.

God prepares us for this. As they grow up, kids gradually become more independent. Even in elementary school, they start going to friends houses without us. They go to sleepovers with friends. And then, before they can drive, we drop them off at places to meet friends regularly. Then, they learn to drive, and everything changes. As soon as our daughter turned 16, she was off to the races…we hardly saw her anymore, because she had the freedom to move around the city at will. Four months after she got her license, though, COVID hit. Because she couldn’t spend as much time with friends, she did a lot of driving around. She even invited me to go for drives with her. We looked for places to drive around…sometimes just driving around town, and other times driving into South Carolina to see what it looked like when states started to re-open during the pandemic. South Carolina opened way before North Carolina did, and we drove around looking at the lines outside restaurants!

Because teenagers are social creatures, we were not particularly strict about the COVID restrictions. She needed to see her friends. She needed to spend time socializing, so we let her. I joked that she spent the summer of 2020 trying to catch COVID but never caught it. I felt sure she would bring it home to me and my husband during those first few crucial months, but we never got it. Actually, I did have it in late January of this year, but I didn’t get it from my daughter.

Pandemic restrictions lifted, and school eventually went back to “normal.” She has been going to school dances and sporting events. Her social life has resumed in full force. She is hardly ever home, but we usually see her for at least a few minutes a day. Lots of times, I don’t even know when she will be home after lacrosse practice.

And now, she is taking another step toward independence…and so are we! We are going to have lots of free time on our hands. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be fun. But even while we are having fun, I’m sure I will miss our little girl who’s not so little anymore. She is three inches taller than I am and ready to face the world. We just have to get ourselves ready to face the world in a different way…and really, that’s the scary part. I’m going to have to reinvent myself!

Yes, God prepares us by making their independence gradual…so gradual that we hardly notice till they’re ready to fly the coop! And now it’s almost here…

Once we get her to college, we plan to take a nice, relaxing vacation to “celebrate” our new status as empty nesters. Hopefully, we embrace the freedom…

The future is bright!