Kids took wing

nest is empty

I don't like it

March 18, 2007|By SUSAN REIMER

I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WAS thinking when I had kids.

That sounds all wrong. Let me try again.

I don't remember what I was thinking when I decided to have kids.

I think I had decided that I didn't want to not have kids, but I can't even say that for sure.

I might have simply wanted to add a couple of extra props to the diorama of married life I had created, complete with picket fence.

But once I had kids, I could no longer remember what life had been like without them, in ways both good and bad. That emotional amnesia also meant that I never regretted having them. I never wanted back my old life, the one that I had lived until my middle 30s.

There is one thing I can say for certain. I didn't have kids so that they would go away.

I never bought into the rosy portrait of the empty nest that those ahead of me in the food chain described. I didn't know what it would be like when my children were gone, but I suspected I wouldn't like it.

And I don't.

I get the whole "give them roots and then give them wings," business, but that doesn't mean I have to like the wings part. I still have plenty of energy and plenty of desire to do the roots part. I am not done being a mother, a protestation to which my children can testify, I'm sure.

I guess we should have had more kids, but my husband and I were up against the biological clock and I didn't think there would be enough time for four or six. Now that we have women becoming mothers at age 56, I wish I had tested the limits. I could use a little third-grader about now.

My son is stationed in Florida, which is only good because it is not Iraq. My daughter is in college, spending spring break in Spain and working like crazy to spend the summer in New York City. I am not sure when we will see either one again. They are both kind of vague when we ask.

And I am in danger of becoming one of those needy, whining, bitter mothers who pester their children for visits and attention. My e-mails don't get answered and I brood for days.

Meanwhile, I shop for just the two of us at the grocery store and everything still goes bad. The bread blooms, the milk goes sour and the lettuce turns brown. Even in the refrigerator, there is evidence of my children's absence.

My husband and I go out to eat and to malls, for heaven's sake. This, after years of tag-team parenting during which we communicated by notes and voicemails. He misses the kids more than I do, realizing it again each morning when he wakes and they are still gone.

I have time to exercise and garden, but these activities have become just stuff I do to fill in the hours. They have ceased to be the things I do to charge my batteries for another round of motherhood. I am making up my life, one day at a time. I don't feel like I have a point.

I anticipated the hollow feeling of the empty nest long ago, and I asked my motherhood mentors what it was like. They all said the same thing. "You are happy to see them when they visit, but strangely grateful to see them leave."

Perhaps that comes in the advanced stages of empty-nest-dom, because I'm not there yet.

I can do without the messes in the kitchen and the bathroom, I guess. And the late-night comings and goings. I don't miss the chaos. I miss them. I miss their sweet faces and their funny ways. Just when they became interesting people, they left, and I feel like I am not going to find out how this movie ends.

I don't remember when or how I decided to be a mother, but once I became one, I never wanted to be anything else.

I still don't.

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