Looking Back on Looking Forward to the Empty Nest

Fifteen Years' Worth of Hindsight

I've been a freelance writer for almost two decades now, which means I have a huge glob of material in my personal archives. Every now and then, it's kind of fun to pull out something from way back yonder; hold it up to the light, and see if time has made any difference in how I feel about the subject. In the case of the article below, which I published back in 1997, if I had to write it all over again, I can't think of a single word I would change. Here is what I wrote back then:

My youngest child is a senior in high school, so in terms of raising kids, I'm on the home stretch. Practically everyone I know has told me so. They've also told me how wonderful my life is about to be.

My mother says, "You'll have so much more free time!”

My husband winks and says, "Honey, pretty soon we'll have the whole house to ourselves.”

My friends with "empty nests” promise me, "You're going to love being able to pick up and go somewhere whenever you want”.

My friends who still have kids at home look at me with envy and sigh, "Just think, no more ‘Meet the Teacher' nights at school. No more falling asleep on the sofa waiting for teenagers to come in at midnight. No more Science Fair projects. It's going to be great.”

And I know they're right. After all, how many times have I taken a car trip with two kids hanging over the front seat singing, "Found a Peanut”, and dreamed of the day when I could travel in peace and quiet? How many times have I spent a whole afternoon playing "Wahoo” with a kid who kept sneezing on the board, and wished for a nice, sophisticated game of bridge with my girlfriends?

And yet it's strange. All the time that I was thinking to myself, "These kids are driving me crazy! I can't wait to be through with this rotten job”, it never really occurred to me that one day I would be through with it. And even though at times being a mom did seem like a rotten job, it was the only job I ever really wanted. When I was a little girl and someone would ask me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was always the same. "A mommy”.

All I dreamed about was being a mom. And when my dream finally came true I threw my whole heart into it. I grew my own baby food. I made homemade paper dolls and illustrated my own stories. I sewed stegosaurus costumes and baked gingerbread houses and cheered soccer games and threw Hawaiian luaus and GI Joe birthday parties.

Of course, being a mom wasn't all fun and games. Sometimes it was downright hard. Over the past twenty or more years, I've broken up more fights than a referee at Madison Square Garden. I've treated enough diaper rash, chicken pox, stomach flu, swimmer's ear and athlete's foot to earn a medical degree. And I've also weathered so many curfew battles, overdue term papers, piano recitals, dented car fenders and poinsettia fund-raisers, that I ought to be a candidate for sainthood, or a Purple Heart at the very least. Yet even though the job has been a tough one, I've loved every minute of it.

But do I really want to go on doing it forever? I mean, it's one thing to find fulfillment when you're rolling out Play-Doh snakes with two precious, wide-eyed toddlers. It's quite another thing to still be overcome with joy when you're picking up wet towels after a couple of lazy, good-for-nothing twenty-plus-somethings.

The thing is, unless I want that to happen, pretty soon I'm going to have to muster the courage to say to myself, "Look, Dearie, your job here is finished. Now quit blubbering into those baby books and get on with your life”. I only hope I will listen to that sound advice when I give it to me.

In the meantime, my son doesn't actually leave for college until next summer, so I still have a few more months left to be an active mom. Which is why people keep telling me that I'm on the "home stretch”. It makes me feel sort of like a race horse, thundering down the track at breakneck speed. The strangest part about it is, the closer I get to the finish line, the more I dread crossing it.

Not because I'm afraid of what'll happen to me after I stop running. Or because it's the only thing I know how to do. The truth is, it's because I've enjoyed being in the race so much that I honestly don't want it to come to an end.

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