Six good reasons why our empty nest has a silver lining.
It’s been a weird old summer. A reluctant countdown to the inevitable day when both daughters would leave home. That’s the downside of having twins. Each childhood landmark is a one-off. Do not pass Go. Do not collect another chance at arranging a 4th birthday party or choosing rucksacks for the first day of school. Do not even contemplate another school concert, confirmation celebration or sweet sixteen. You’re done. And as abruptly as our duo status became a quartet some 19 years ago, we are now destined to return to life as a couple in the home we bought to raise a family.
I expected to feel strange. The unexpected lay in how this strange manifested. Impromptu images of small people crayoning at a tiny table in the middle of the kitchen floor. I could see them both in my mind’s eye, laying a wooden train track in the living room and playing hopscotch along a strip of toy rug. Fragments of flashbacks flickered across my retinas like an old TV with broken reception. When did I stop shoving Barbie into inhumanely tight clothes?
The house felt out of sorts. No Netflix noises emitting from one room. No flute music from the other. The hallway is suspiciously free of bags, shoes, beanies, sheet music, abandoned lip balm, water bottles. The kitchen sink is empty. The iPhone chargers are where we left them.
I sat on their undisturbed beds to breathe in the last gasps of lingering perfume, and ache a little. OK, a lot.
Did my mother feel this way when I left for college? Or worse, left for six months in Sweden in the pre-mobile phone era. When contacting home was an event in itself that required a little planning and a little saving up, and the notion of a swift signal to let them know I’d arrived safely (after a 24-hour journey by boat and train through Europe) was as outlandish as a James Bond plot. Undoubtedly. I feel a little closer to my mother.
Thank goodness for modern technology. For Skype, Facebook, Messenger services and smart phones. For keeping in touch at the press of a message or the selection of a single emoji. I’ve learned a spontaneous burst of red hearts shooting across my phone screen warms my soul. Every time.
Not everything has changed since the 1980s. In exactly the same way as my own parental home, our empty nest boasts a welcoming, revolving door. At almost nineteen, both girls will come and go, in ones or twos, for some years yet. Home for holidays and between plans. Away for studying and travelling. Home for celebrations, a habit which will hopefully continue for as long as they are living within reasonable striking distance. Which this day and age could be anywhere within a few hours’ flight.
So, looking on the bright side, there are at least six good reasons why our empty nest can claim a silver lining.
- Moving out is a gradual process. Our daughters will return regularly and refill the house with loud music, funny stories and American pancakes.
- They are evolving. Living their own lives and making their own decisions secure in the knowledge that they have a safe nest back home.
- Their Dad and I are enjoying time together. I feel a date night coming on.
- Modern technology has closed part of the gap in gap year. We stay in touch.
- I have a greater understanding of my own parents’ feelings.
- While I wouldn’t say absence makes the heart grow fonder, as this may imply a lack of appreciation while they were here, a longer absence definitely highlights which little irritations can morph into moments of missing. The empty kitchen sink, for one.
Believing our children to be capable of standing on their own two feet, of displaying good manners and choosing to make the right decisions, of cooking themselves a meal, of getting from A to B by any modern means of transport, is one thing. Watching them do it, is quite another. And a huge relief.
My job isn’t done. As a parent, my job will never be done as long as I have a breath to draw. But if anything should happen to me, I know they will regain any temporary lost footing and go on to live fulfilling lives. Which is exactly the way it should be.
And I couldn’t be prouder or happier for them.
Roll on Christmas.