Empty Nest

The room looked small. Boxes were stacked here and there nilly-willy through out. Arnie turned to look at the pile of futon bunk-bed-parts leaning against the wall out in the hallway. Beyond the bed parts sat boxes containing Tammie’s various computer components. He shook his head in disbelief.

Tammie’s roommate and her family had arrived at the dorm exactly when we did. Within fifteen minutes and with the help of several upperclassmen, everything the two girls owned was carted into their home-away-from-home. The boxes were placed on the floor in the center of the room. When space ran out, the rest was stacked against the wall in the hallway. It seemed impossible that everything would eventually fit into this small area!

We set to work dragging boxes to the sides of the room. Sarah and her family quickly set up her loft, TV and stereo. I dropped the large floor rug into place and Arnie went to work bolting together Tammie’s new sofa/bed.

With Arnie busy doing his thing, I turned to help my daughter find places to store the many items we had purchased for her to use at college. Buying these things had been fun, reminding me of the times I prepared new bedrooms, fixed up doll houses, and made play areas for my children when they were small. A lot of enthusiasm went into choosing just the right dish, shower gel, sheets and comforter.

When the computer was on her desk, plugged in and functioning, it was late afternoon and time for Arnie and me to leave…time for Tammie to begin her college student years. We faced each other and awkwardly said our good-byes. Knowing that Tammie felt uncertain and sad made my pain all the worse. It bothered me very much that I didn’t know how to properly say good-by to all that was and at the same time, ‘hello’ to a drastic change in my life.

Determined not to cry, I assumed a brusque, phony cheerfulness that didn’t fool anyone. Unchecked tears rolled down Tammie’s cheeks. Arnie kissed and hugged his little daughter good-by with an unfathomable expression on his face. He acted as a man…living our cultural man’s code of emotional self-containment. Then my husband and I walked to our car together, but alone. We made small talk about the weather.

The car was comfortable, neither too warm nor too cold. A new, but already familiar country western song played on the radio. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the singer promising a woman that he’d return a mislaid purse on one condition…that they dance. As our vehicle sped toward home, the radio songs stopped having the power to keep me from thinking about the fact that I didn’t have a child living at home anymore.

For over twenty-two years I was a mother…the most important person in two young lives. Each day had been filled with purpose. Now, without a child at home, I felt like an astronaut who lost hold of his tether that connected him to his space ship. Was I destined to spend the rest of my life lost and tumbling uselessly though space?

A gloom settled over my spirit as I wondered what meaning my life now had. The years I had spent with small children in the nest zoomed past way too fast. Was the best time of my life over?

In the days that followed, I tried to keep busy. My house needed cleaning. All summer long I promised that after Tami left for college, I’d do the job. Looking around now, I felt overwhelmed. Where would I start? I didn’t even want to clean the house! It was too depressing…it was empty…an empty nest!

Wanting the sound of a human voice to keep me company, I put an audio book in the tape player, and out of habit went to work. Hours later flushed with the satisfaction of having completed a small job and full of the story I’d listened to while working, I sat down to call my married daughter. We compared notes on how we spent the day, and I commiserated with her when she told me about the terrors of having a toddler who got into everything the minute her back was turned.

During the next several days I worked in my garden…weedy from an August of neglect, wrote articles, and worked on having my Christmas gift book ready to be printed by the end of September. E-mail letters from Tammie spilled out of my computer whenever I opened my electronic mail box.

The silence of my house sometimes still intimidates me, but I have come to believe that my work as Mother is far from over. Just the way I Mother has changed. I now must do it long distance. Advice and assurances flow through my computer to Tammie daily. On the phone I listen to Niki and share with her from my wealth of experiences. It turns out that although my nest is empty; my life is still very full!

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