Really, truly empty nest.

I find myself in a strange and confusing place tonight.

This is the tail end of my first true “empty nest summer”.  I have been home for the past eight weeks because I am a teacher, but unlike the previous 19 summers, I have not had any children here with me. I haven’t had the usual trips to the zoo, the beach, the mountains. There was no family vacation.

It’s been a summer of learning how to be by myself, of learning to fill each day with gardening, dog walking, reading, writing and thinking.  And some good Netflix films.    It was hard, and I didn’t love it, but I got through the eight long weeks in reasonably good shape.

Of course, Paul and I made sure to schedule a lot of fun this summer.  And I made plans with a lot of old and new friends, so that the days of sitting at home on the couch were relatively rare.

Still, it was hard to be here all day knowing that no one would ask for a snack, or a ride or a bandaid or a hug.  This was my summer of learning how to live as a “post Mommy Mother”.  This was my summer of waking up and NOT listening for sleeping children.  This was my summer to grow up and get over it.

And all of this brings me to today.

Paul and our boys are off on a three day hike.  Tim slept here the night before they left, so that he could help Paul to pack. Which means that I woke up on Sunday morning knowing that he was in the room next door.  My heart was full as I sipped my coffee, waiting for him to wake up and join me.  It was a little bit of “the old days” and I loved it. A lot.

On Sunday morning, the men headed off on their adventure, and Kate and I went to a Christening for a sweet new baby.  We had a wonderful day with friends, and shared a lot of laughs and jokes as I showed her my “NonniWannabe” self, dying to have a grandchild of my own.

And on Sunday night, last night, she slept here at our house.  Once again, I woke up knowing that one of my children was breathing in the room next to mine.  Once again, I had the pleasure of having breakfast with one of my own.

Today both Kate and I spent hours in our classrooms, getting ready for the rapidly approaching new school year. I put in a whole lot of hours moving furniture, unpacking boxes, stocking shelves and cabinets.  My back and shoulders are so sore now that I can barely type.  OUCH, in a big way. Just OUCH.

And I am now at home, on my couch, feet up and ibuprofin dissolving in my bloodstream.

And there is no other human here with me.  The boys and Paul are still on their hike, and Kate has gone back to her own place.

No one needs me to cook. No one needs me to nurture or comfort or chat or listen or hug.

And it is pure bliss.

I can sit back, enjoy my ice pack, and just indulge my own aches and pains.

The nest is really, really empty.  And I am really, really glad.


When I was in the first grade, I think it was, we learned a song about the fall. The words said,

“The wind blew out of the North one day,

and cried ‘September’s begun!’.

Then swiftly, mournfully sped away

To whisper that summer was done.”

Ever since that time, the coming of September has brought with it a sweet sadness as I get ready to say goodbye to the warmth and light of summer.  When I was a young mother, raising my babies, the onset of September meant the tearing separation of our return to school, when I would have to rush away every morning and rush home at night to squeeze in a few precious hours with my babies before bed.

Ten years ago, of course, September was marked forever by the terrorist attacks that stole our innocence and introduced a new sense of wariness and loss.  September 11 rolls around every year, and we shed new tears for the victims, the heroes, the family member left behind to grieve.  Some of us mourn, too, the simple days before that one, when we somehow believed in our national invincibility.

As my children grew up, September became known as “move in” month, when my young adult kids would move out of my house and into campus housing.  September became, for me, the “empty nest” month.  It was a month for letting go, for waving goodbye, for staying up late to worry about smoke alarms and dining hall meals.  September became my goodbye to motherhood month.

And three years ago, on September 15, 2008, my father lost his battle against melanoma. His death is the saddest and most difficult event in my largely charmed and hugely blessed life.  I miss him every single day, multiple times each day. I hear his voice when I hammer a nail, fix chipped paint, mow the grass. I hear his laugh when I pour the wine or serve the pasta.  I see his face when I look in the mirror at mine.  I think of him with a special sweet pain on his birthday, on Christmas, and of course in September.

This year has been particularly poignant.  This is the tenth anniversary of the terrible attacks in 2001.  The whole country is mourning again. I have been in tears over and over as I have compulsively watched the footage of those terrible hours.  I can’t stop crying, but I can’t look away.

Today my family gathered to remember my Dad and to mark the anniversary of his death.  We shared food, and wine and stories, as we always do.  I have dreamed of Dad every night for the past three nights. I felt him beside me as I washed dishes in his kitchen, or threw the trash in his garage.  I remembered our last family gathering with Dad in our presence.  We played music, we ate pasta, we touched his lips with red wine.  We said, “I love you.” over and over again.

September comes every year.  It brings memories of loss and of sorrow.  It brings the end of warmth and the voice of the North wind.

But I am a teacher.  For me, in spite of the sadness and melancholy of the month, September also brings new pencils, new clean notebooks and new school shoes.  Most importantly, September brings a whole new group of children to show me yet again that life is about the future and that every day is a new and exciting day.

A relapse

Have you ever had the flu? The kind where you are achy, and feverish and nauseous, all at once?  You stay in bed, you drink your tea. You take your ibuprofin, and slurp up your nice chicken soup.  After three days, surrounded by tissues and throat lozenges and cold, congealed Vicks, you wake up to realize that you feel much better.  You give a huge sigh of relief, take a nice hot shower, eat a real meal. You check your email, go through your snail mail, clean up the dirty laundry on the floor and then you head for bed. You fall asleep  with the joyful feeling that you are all better.

Then you wake up.  Eight long hours have gone by, and in those hours, your flu germs have had a total field day.  Your head hurts, your throat hurts, you have the chills and your joints are aching.  You have had a big, nasty, frustrating, giant honking relapse.


I think I am having a relapse, my friends. Kate is all moved into her new place, and is having a wonderful time.  She’s meeting new people, eating out at funky restaurants, going out to “trivia” at the local bar.  It’s all good and I’m both relieved and delighted.

Matt has found a place in Amherst, and will be moving out there in a couple of weeks. Out of the crime ridden, crowded city where he has been living. I’m excited, relieved, happy and proud of him. He found this place, and made all of the arrangements, without any input or help from us.

Tim is at the end of a happy, if not terribly productive, summer. He is eager to move back to school, where he will share a Townhouse with four other guys.  I’m excited for him, and happy that he’ll be in a place where he can cook his own healthy and tasty meals, instead of relying on the usual laxative stylings of the dining hall.

So you can see that I am joyful, proud, excited.  This is so great. All three of them are independent, content, and moving into their own little spaces.  And I am behind them all 100%.

Its just that I have started to wake up at night, thinking that I hear their long-ago voices calling out to me.  I have just begun to walk through the grocery store taking note of their special, favored treats.  Smoked mussels for Kate, hot sauce for Matty, bread and bagels and pasta for my baby boy. I have told myself that there is no need to buy those little treats, and I have studiously NOT placed them into my cart.

I’m really happy for them all, and secure in the knowledge that they all love and support each other, and still love Paul and me.  This is great! Seriously!

It’s just that the fall is coming.  The air is getting crisp.  The stores are full of new clothes, new backpacks, shiny pens and new boxes of crayons.  I can’t help but notice the little juice boxes and the sharp edged rulers.  There are pudding cups and little packs of goldfish crackers everywhere I turn.

I am most definitely having a relapse.  I only hope that hot tea will cure me this time around.