Empty Nest: Lovely & Lonely

She romanticized the fabulous life when her kids left home. Now that they’re gone, this mom is trying on a new existence — simultaneously banal and brimming with new possibility.

By Sara Peyton

A New You
Up front you need to know my husband and I worked, shared household chores, and coparented our two sons. When the kids were young, I griped about a lot of things: incomprehensible soccer practice schedules, planet-sized pileups of shoes and dirty socks, the end of privacy. My favorite bedtime fantasy didn’t turn on a lusty encounter with a hunky stranger. Instead I imagined running off to some faraway town where nobody knew my name or demanded anything from me. I want you to know this because what I’m about to reveal may surprise you.
Nothing has been more difficult for me than figuring out how to live contentedly once my kids left home.
Just today I lugged my computer from my shoe-box-sized office in the garage to my sons’ spacious old bedroom. For nearly 20 years, the sunlit space belonged to them. But six years ago, the eldest, Leason, left for college; his brother, TJ, followed three years later. I’ve finally understood they’re never moving back home. Not that I want them to.
Still, poking around their old room made me feel like an intruder. From the back of the closet I hauled out a large woven basket packed with my sons’ dog-eared stuffed animals. On top sat a scruffy raccoon. At age 2, Leason tenderly carried a pocket-sized raccoon from our home in California to grandmother’s house in Maine to see the snow. He lost it — maybe in the snow — and wailed. But I convinced him that his stuffed pal simply grabbed an earlier flight home. Then I hastily phoned my husband in California and told him where to buy another one, the raccoon I now held.
I look back: One minute, it seems, I’m as clever as Mary Poppins, happily clutching a wriggly boy, his eyes glittering at the sight of his favorite toy. And the next, I’m on tiptoe, blinking back tears, reaching for one last hug before my tall, sinewy son heads to the airport to catch a plane that will take him 2,000 miles away.
I anticipated that menopause would be my quintessential midlife challenge, given all the hoopla devoted to the subject. But for me, and I suspect for many, achieving that inevitable milestone was relatively trouble-free. First symptom: hot flashes. Then my short-term memory took a hike. So I read a half dozen or so books on the subject. And over mugs of steaming lattes my friends and I yakked endlessly about our actual and imagined symptoms. I decided not to take hormones and got my bones scanned. They were fine. And I was fine. Because, honestly, what’s to miss about monthly periods and the fear of an unwanted pregnancy?
What I really miss, when there are no kids around, is the delicious feeling that my day-to-day decisions large and small — how I spent my time, what I cooked for supper, why I made money, and why it was never enough — confirmed my place in the world and made me feel I was on the right path. On days when I felt angry or depressed, the bonds to my kids reassuringly tethered me to my husband, my home, my community, my work, the very ground I walked on, and even the vegetables I grew in my garden.

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