how an empty nest is not like a dreaded breakup

IMG_3752I don’t know about you, but I had two relationships in my 20’s that were important, somewhat long-term, that should have upset me greatly when they ended, but did not. There was only relief! As the time for my younger son’s departure for college approached two years ago, I remember wishing that his leaving might follow that pattern: lots of anticipatory dread followed by a sweet sense of freedom.  IMG_9810Alas.Watching my children come and go has not been like that.

Oh, there are compensations… the hallway not littered with 15 pairs of sneakers; the organized coat closet; less towels to wash; a revolutionized relationship with the fridge. I always know where the car keys are. These are not small things!

Then we adopted Finn. Adorable, lovable Finn. Hyper, sheddy, anxious Finn. It doesn’t matter, but I can’t tell if his role is to distract me from the empty nest or to ruin it.

There’s the constant vacuuming. A perpetual sense of disgust about our couch (the slipcover is always untucked and frequently dirtied with paw prints). Furthermore, his needs have kept me tethered to the house, so much so that I’ve taken to referring to last year as “My Year Under House Arrest” (compounded by all that snow here in Boston).  Not exactly the ‘freedom of the empty nest’.

And then of course, there’s my sister.

Even so, my world has radically changed. It’s disorienting. Isn’t something dramatic supposed to happen — a good, long cry? a brand new sense of self springing off the shelf? the resumption of some old, long-missed sense of self? On the other hand, there is the abiding sense of normalcy: this, after all, is what is meant to happen.
IMG_3758These images were in a draft file — posts I keep plundering while our computer undergoes major overhauls. They still feel relevant, though, with that shadowy sense of things slipping out of my grasp. The figure looks determined, her pose intentional, but I cannot decipher her meaning, nor can I tell whether she achieves her purpose or not.

Perhaps she’s wearing ballet slippers and moving from first position to second position. Maybe she’s casting a spell. But mostly, I wonder if she is reaching out to hug someone who is not there.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed dancing my heart out to Uptown Funk this afternoon. It isn’t something I would’ve done with the kids upstairs, don’t ask me why.

16 thoughts on “how an empty nest is not like a dreaded breakup

  1. Ginny

    Not having kids of my own, only one passing through, plus a parent (also passing through) I can’t say I have a true empty nest syndrome but boy o boy am I happy to be free again. I hope at least a small semblance of that great feeling comes your way. Soon.

    I understand about tethered to a dog too, but that I haven’t mastered yet. But there is a good trick (from Alice) plastic backed bath runners for the couch are way better than a throw. And easier to wash And are somewhat water/vomit proof.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Yeah thanks Ginny more freedom sure would be nice. Great idea about the bath matts. I guess you’d need about four of them? Worth a try. I hate my couch with an irrational intensity!

  2. Mo Crow

    Ariel P Cat and I shed heaps of fur and hair, Old Man Crow doesn’t shed at all and he does the vacuuming so I will just go and ask him to give his opinion here of what it’s like to be housebound with furry friends-
    Well I shed my fur decades ago so I look at the enormous amount of hair that the vac picks up with nostalgia and affection. Sometimes it sets me off on a daydream of years ago when I had hair that flowed over my shoulders and whipped my face in the wind. When I didn’t have to wear a hat to protect my head from sunburn. When I wore my pants tight and I could dance all night. I love the fur, it gives me a connection to a younger me!

    1. deemallon Post author

      I actually like vacuuming. Not for the nostalgia you describe (funny!!) but because there is such an instant and satisfying result.

      You have hair loss? Is that relates to problems with your thyroid? I lost handfuls of hair when I took radioactive iodine, but it’s still pretty thick.

      1. Mo Crow

        Well when I was younger I took pretty much whatever I could get but I don’t remember radioactive Iodine ever being on the menu so I can’t blame that. My liver seems to have taken more of a beating than my thyroid. Maybe I could try the Iodine to balance things up a bit. No point having new wheels on an old car. Glad to hear your hair’s still thick. How’s your liver?

    2. Mo Crow

      thank you OMC hehe!
      “I grow old … I grow old …
      I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”
      from the The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot
      (and yes we are wearing our trousers rolled these days)

  3. Nancy

    What a beautiful image Dee. And yes, that empty nest is not always what we expect it to be. I was expecting to be devastated and was remarkedly not so at all. I was just fine. Mmm.

  4. saskia

    well, only one has flown the nest after several botched attempts and it is different than I imagined, although to be honest I did’nt imagine a lot, I find it hard to feel the actual emotion until the event has happened – or is that the same for everybody? of course, as a mother I can and do worry, although usually about the wrong things, do I ever learn?! –
    on the plus side: there’s literally and mentally more space; it’s nice for younger son as he gets more attention, which is also not so nice at times from his point of view, if you get my drift.
    on the down side: I miss our eldest’s conversation and general presence for unnameable reasons.
    life is still so busy for me with the office job and all the rest of it, weeks fly by and I don’t miss him, then I lie awake at night, duh, and realise he hás gone, ‘forever’ that’s when it sucks, or when I look at photo’s of their younger selves, which I can hardly bare to do, and there’s an intense ache: where did all that go? and why so fast?

    beautiful post Dee

    1. deemallon Post author

      I have those late night moments too! And pictures ?! When will I be able to look at the videos from when they were little – I don’t know.

  5. peggyvonburg

    I hear you loud and clear, Dee. Two large dogs, one long-haired, I’ve brushed out or vacuumed up (literally I’m sure) pounds of fur over the past 12 years.
    My empty nest syndrome was at its worst before it actually even happened. I thought when the first one went off to college, that was “empty nest” but not so. Then with each one until the last one went off to college, that still wasn’t it. Now, I think it’s finally official but it took so long to happen, I barely noticed! I very much like having more time and space.
    I see the image as an empty hug. I have them in my dreams with our boy that passed when he was 7. I see him and go to him and hug him and then he’s gone.
    A very connecting post — love reading shared experience. And the nest image/collage is wonderful. xx

    1. deemallon Post author

      I’ve read this comment over and over, Peggy and feel my heart open each time. Thank you, especially for sharing about the son you lost.

      POUNDS of dog hair. Yes, I’m getting there!!!

  6. ravenandsparrow

    When my oldest went off to college I was suddenly struck by a sense of exhaustion. It was only when he was leaving that I realized how intense the experience of rearing him (and his brother) had been. He hit a rough spot about five years later and came home for a year. I was terribly worried about him, but loved having him around. Now both boys are doing pretty well and both will be here this weekend. Yay! I do like having my days to myself. I have been feeling grumpy about the amount of time my new dog is siphoning away. He went to the groomer for the first time today and having him clean is surprisingly satisfying. I wonder how long it will last.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I have a feeling our guys will be in and out some… what with housing costing what it does these days… and so the line between having them here and not is not a hard and fast one at all, as you point out. So glad your two are doing pretty well. I’m in one of those phases where I’m pretty worried about one of mine… makes dog care seem pretty remedial.

  7. katknit

    I had a similar experience, years ago now, but within a year of the youngest flying the coop, I adjusted and now love life again. Hope that happens for you as well.

    1. deemallon Post author

      More of my adjustment rides on the dog right now and with some coaching we are hoping for some
      Good new behaviors!


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