Empty Nest? What do these two words really mean? Nest ~ noun ~ a structure or place made or chosen by a bird for laying eggs and sheltering its young. Empty ~ adjective ~ containing nothing; not filled or occupied. So “empty nest” is a place that a bird has chosen to lay her eggs and shelter her young and, in the end, this nest becomes unoccupied; containing nothing. Bear with me. I’m really just trying to wrap my head around this whole concept. In a mere 16 days I will be one of the many moms that has joined this exclusive club called “empty nesters”.
I have been married for 25 years this coming November. When I married my soul mate I also married his 2 beautiful daughters that were 5 and 3. Instant mom (step-mom). After a year of marriage we welcomed daughter number 3 and 5 years later came daughter number 4. I guess you might say that our nest was full. My husband was certainly outnumbered with 5 females in our house. When our girls were young at times I know that I felt like this stage of raising kids would go on forever. During the teenage years it really felt like FOREVER sometimes! We had our trials and tribulations like any other family. There were times when I wondered if I could really do this thing called motherhood. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, so we all do the best we can with the skills God has given us. I have been doing a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks, and all I can say is that it seems like the days that I thought were going to be everlasting have, in fact, flown by with such rapidity that at times I am finding it hard to catch my breath.
I work at an elementary school and one of my duties every day is to load and unload the kindergarten children on the school bus to transport to our kindergarten village. This is “hands down” the best part of my day. My youngest daughter rode this same bus almost 13 years ago. When I see the moms and dads bringing their pride and joy on the first day of kindergarten I can’t help but get a lump in my throat. This was just my life….where did the time go? Inevitably, when there are tears from parents and children you will see me wiping away the streams flowing down my cheeks. Sending your child to kindergarten is an enormous milestone for your entire family. The journey begins. You are no longer the only influence in your baby’s life. From this day on, your child will pull away from your nest a tiny bit every day. You won’t actually notice this on a day to day basis, but when reflecting all of these years later, I know this to be my truth.
Daughter number 1 left for college in 2005. This was our families first experience sending one of our chicks out of the nest. She was ready. The rest of the family not so much. Saying goodbye to her sisters before we made the 2-½ hour drive to campus was emotional. We arrived on campus and after a whirlwind of trekking up 4 flights of stairs, unpacking, making beds, giving last words of advice, it was time for us to say goodbye. I’m not going to lie – it kind of felt like getting punched in the stomach. I proceeded to cry the entire 2-½ hours home while reminiscing about the 13 years I was given the privilege of helping raise this young woman and loving her as my own. Our home would never be the same. She was the trailblazer. Our family had 1 less chick in the nest.
Daughter number 2 left for college two years later in 2007. Again, saying goodbye to the sisters was another emotional roller coaster. We made our way 2-½ hours to the same campus where daughter number 1 was. I have to say that this did make it just a little easier knowing that the sisters had each other. We hauled rubber maids up flights of stairs, unpacked, made beds and once more tried to give last words of advice. Time for the parental units to say goodbye. That punch in the stomach I mentioned before; ditto! Another 2-½ hour drive crying and remembering 15 years of watching this little girl grow into a beautiful young woman that I had loved as my own. Family dynamics changed once again. Our family had 2 less chicks in our nest.
Fast forward to 2011. Daughter number 3 is ready to embark on her college experience. There is only one sister left for saying goodbye. Different, but still emotional. Driving the 1-½ hours to her campus was filled with a little chatter but also periods of silence. I remember having feelings of anxiety. How could this be? I was just driving this girl to the horse barn and thinking that it was going to last forever. For the third time, we unload, unpack, make beds, and give our last few words of guidance. I knew in my head, and also from my husbands face, that it was time to say our goodbyes. My heart was holding on for just one more minute. This time I think I got a one-two punch in the stomach! The drive home seemed hazy. This young woman that I nurtured in my nest was now spreading her wings. The family that once had 4 chicks in our nest was left with 1.
August 25, 2016 is the day that we will drive daughter number 4 an hour away to begin the next chapter in her life. There will be no sisters at home for her to say her goodbyes. I’m envisioning conversation between my husband and daughter. I will try to interject but will probably have some feelings of apprehension as I do not want to make this about mom being a basket case. This is an exciting time for my daughter and I want to experience this with her and let her know how proud I am of the young woman she is. There will be familiarity in the process of hauling, unpacking, bed making and last words of advice. At this point, a tae kwon do kick in the gut is how I am feeling about what this goodbye will be like. My husband and I have always said that daughter number 4 was icing on the cake for us. She has spent a lot of time with just her dad and I as the rest of her sisters flew the coop several years before her. It may not have always been her preferred circumstance but she embraced it and brought so much joy into our nest. I know that she has what it takes to soar once she spreads her wings. I will enjoy watching her success from my once full nest.
Raising children is an honor and a privilege. Eighteen years may seem like an eternity while you are raising your little ones but I am here to tell you it is a tiny portion of all of your lives. Enjoy the times that you have when all of your chicks are in your nest. Once they spread those wings they learn to soar and as parents we couldn’t ask for anything more. I can say that spending time with our now adult children brings me such joy. They are now building their nests and we look forward to how full they become.