An empty-nest survival guide
File under "notes to self"
Last Friday, we moved our second and last kid into his first-year college dorm. I spent the weekend in a flurry of errands: stops at various big-box stores to pick up so-called dorm essentials; a drive across the mountains to another town where the Home Depot still had mini-fridges in stock. On Sunday, I helped my son haul the fridge up to his third-floor room and said goodbye. (Tears? Yeah, there were tears. I tried not to be too sappy, but I’m only human.)
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
I’m only a few days into empty-nest territory, so I don’t really know the answer(s) yet, but here’s my starter list of coping mechanisms. Please share yours in the comments.
Acknowledge that this is a big change. Feel all the feelings. It’s okay if they change day to day or hour by hour. You can be happy and sad at the same time.
Be proud of your kid for all the hard work that got them to this point. Be proud of yourself for all the things you did (too many to count, over almost two decades!) to help them arrive here.
Remind yourself that you are not alone, even if you feel like you are.
Make a list of people you haven’t talked to in a while and get in touch with them. Bonus points if they are new empty-nesters who understand how you’re feeling.
Resist the urge to call or text your kid too often, work out their class schedule for them, or fix problems they can tackle on their own. (Look at the parents’ FB group for your kid’s class if you need examples of what not to do.) Send them a care package instead.
Remember that pet pics sent via the family group chat provide a great excuse to stay in touch without appearing to hover.
Take advantage of the perks. Read more. Watch your favorite shows more. Shower without closing the bathroom door. Eat dinner at 5:30 p.m. or at 10 p.m. Do something fun with your partner or spouse (if you have one) or just by yourself. Enjoy the fact that you don’t have to change a diaper or go through the arms race of college admissions again. Buy random items at the grocery store without worrying about what kind of nutritional example you’ll set.
Have faith that your family, however arranged, will be able to weather the transition from what it has been to what it will become.
Give yourself time to remember who you are when you are not in full-on daily parenting mode. What do you like to do with your time? What do you WANT to do with your time? Do you remember?
Enjoy the adventure—not just your kid’s but your own. Be curious about what comes next, and be grateful that you’ve made it here. It’s a big deal.
P.S. For a beautiful meditation on what it means to see your child make it to college, see this Twitter thread posted by Philadelphia writer V.C. McGuire earlier this week.
What I’ve been reading/watching this month:
Reading: Confession time. I’ve read almost nothing by Joan Didion. To remedy that, I took Slouching Towards Bethlehem with me on our family vacation to England—only to discover that Didion’s sharp-eyed takes on America in the 1960s didn’t suit the mood of the trip at all. So I set Didion aside and picked up a copy of the new Virago edition of Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women at Blackwell’s in Oxford. Like Didion, Pym’s a writer I’d long meant to read but hadn’t made time for.
I’m glad I finally did make time. To get a sense of Miss Lathbury, the north-of-30, slightly unreliable narrator of Excellent Women, imagine Mrs. Dalloway as a country vicar’s unmarried daughter, living a modest life in postwar London, making cups of tea for friends and neighbors as they careen through more dramatic lives than her own. Is it enough to be one of those quietly useful and dependable “excellent women”—the ones who run the jumble sale at the church bazaar and and clean up other people’s messes? What does Miss Lathbury desire in her heart of hearts?
Watching: In the flurry of late-summer travel and getting ready to move our youngest kid to college, we’d put off watching the season 4 finale of Stranger Things. [Link contains spoilers, so click at your own peril.] Fear as well as travel held me back—not the fear of Vecna or demogorgons but the old-fashioned, almost pleasurable fear of having to watch a favorite character die. I thought I knew which character wouldn’t make it through the finale. I was wrong. Sometimes I don’t mind being wrong.
Listening: I’m well into season 10 of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast. It’s the final season, and focuses on the Russian Revolution. I have loved every season of Revolutions and will be bereft when I’ve listened to it all. Fortunately his earlier podcast on the history of Rome ran for 192 episodes, so I have more of his inimitable style to look forward to. I also have several Audible credits stockpiled, so hit me with your audiobook recs.
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