Facing an empty nest

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Our two children, Jeremy and Tova, are once again off to school. For the past 15 years, my wife, Judy, and I have rather looked forward to the fall, when we could send our kids back to school for most of the day after a busy summer spent juggling their schedules and ours.
Things started to change when Jeremy graduated from high school three years ago. That fall he left the country to spend his “gap year” living and studying in Israel for nine months.
Tova more than filled the resulting gap in our lives, as she relished the opportunity to be an “only child” for the first time. I feel we have come to know her much better these past few years, as she’s grown into a young lady and shared so much with us about her thoughts and concerns while progressing through high school.
But this fall will be different for us, as she, too, goes off to her gap year experience, and Jeremy returns to college.
Judy and I have been anticipating this moment for some time, of course. First, our friends who’ve already reached this stage enthusiastically anointed us “empty-nesters” ever since word of Tova’s impending graduation reached them.
And for some years, of course, we’ve had a weekend here and there when both kids were staying with friends or grandparents and we got a glimpse of life in our home without children.
I think it’s fair to say we saw the upside on those occasions, even as we very much noticed the unusual quiet that descended on the house.
Among other subtle changes we found were the ability to carry on a conversation until its conclusion (or until one of our phones rang), and the opportunity to eat dinner whenever we felt like it, rather than at a pre-set family time. In fact, the ability to be spontaneous in just about anything quickly dawned on us as a major benefit.
We knew, however, that this meant we also would need to refamiliarize ourselves with the mode of our early marriage, where our home and family was” just us.”
And since neither of us is exactly the same person we had been before having our first child, there will be something special and different, and a touch scary, about it.
So it will be another honeymoon of sorts — in several senses of the term: Not only a carefree opportunity to enjoy our newfound privacy, but also a slightly uncomfortable period of getting (re)acquainted and learning about each other (and how we have changed over the years).
It also opens the door to a new phase in our relationship with our now-adult children. I don’t think I realized, when they were younger, how much I would look forward to that.
In short, the empty nest presents us with opportunities and challenges, like so much in life.
We heard some words of excellent advice when we had just become parents. At one of the first social gatherings we attended after Jeremy’s birth, we were talking about the exhaustion of early parenthood — the round-the-clock feedings, the diaper changes, the crying (the kid’s and ours).
And the older couple we were chatting with looked at us kindly and said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” We knew at the time that this was going to be the kind of adage we’d remember and revisit many years later, when we grasped the depth of its truth.
I’d say we’re there.