Monday, February 6, 2012

An Empty Nest Is for the Birds

My children are 26 and 22, but when I dream of them, they are usually about 10 and 6. 

I don’t know why this is.

I’ve read New-Age spiritualists who say that everyone on the other side is about 30, and that we will recognize our friends and family even if we never knew them at this age.  Not sure how these theorists have come to these revelations, but I sort of believe it.  Or maybe I just want to.  Thirty is a good age to be for eternity.

When I’m awake, I picture my children as they are today: young adults, my son tall and bearded, my daughter with cool boots and a chic haircut.  But asleep, I see them as they used to be.  Is it because at ages 10 and 6, they had settled comfortably into life, with friends and interests they have to this day?  Is it because I enjoyed this period of motherhood so much, happy not to be merely a live-in nursemaid but not yet having to contend with the anxiety brought on by teenager-hood?  Is it because this is when they still enjoyed hanging around with me?   Is it because they—we—were still untouched by divorce?

I don’t write very often about how I miss my kids.  (This is because I don’t like to write about things that might embarrass or upset them, but what the hell: they probably don’t even read this.)  For one thing, they are wonderful about keeping in touch with me.  I saw my daughter yesterday; I visited my son in L.A. two weeks ago.  I talk to them on the phone often.  I am lucky, lucky, lucky, and I know it and acknowledge it every day of my life.

But that doesn’t keep me from occasional melancholy and a deep longing for something that is gone, finished.

Society as a whole laughs at parents who feel sad that their kids have left home.  Either that, or we are admonished, told that we should be happy our kids are doing well and becoming productive citizens and what, we should want them to live in our basements when they’re forty? 

I resent all this.  I am thrilled that my children are on their own, living their lives, becoming yet more themselves.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But don’t tell me to be embarrassed about feeling sad. 

Motherhood changed me so profoundly.  In one instant, I became a completely different person.  And the thing about an empty nest is that you change again, but it’s not instantaneous and it’s not complete.  You’re still and always a mother, but now you have to be a regular person again, too.

In my dreams, my kids are usually trying to help me find something.

When I’m asleep, I don’t know what it is.  But when I wake up, I think I do.


  1. I've thought for a long time that my child was perfect, as perfect as he could be when he was ten. Whenever we disagree, I try to find the ten-year-old inside him that I knew then how to reach. He was about as wise as anyone I have ever known. How can one not feel occasional regret when something has gone? I'm as lucky as you are because what grew in my child was a love that allows me to reach the ten-year-old when I need him. I can't believe it.

  2. Thank you for that essay (which I found on Twitter through @askmoxie). My boys are 2 and 7mo but I can feel the melancholy you write about waiting for me. And like you, the day I became a parent I became a completely different person.

    A couple months ago I interviewed a mom I know who became an empty-nester this past fall when her youngest son went off to college. She said the first few weeks after he left there were moments she had a hard time breathing. You can read the whole interview here if you'd like:

    Anyway, thanks again for this post. I look forward to reading more.


  3. Oh dear me yes. I am not looking forward to the day my children are all gone from the house. Heck, I still miss their baby-selves, and their toddler-selves. I look forward to meeting their grown-up-selves, but I will be sad about that. Some part of my life will have died, and I will morn it.

    1. Thanks so much for the support and for reading!

  4. This is a wonderful post. Mine are still small, 7 and 4, but I think ahead to this time a lot and how much I will miss them. I saw my own parents negotiate the same with my brother and I, which they did well without making us feel guilty or like we should just leave them alone already. Thanks for this dispatch from the other side.

  5. ooh, lovely post. my daughter is only 2 and it already makes my heart hurt to think about the time when she'll be living far away.

  6. Of course we read your blog....