Sweater Weather (by Rainbow Motel)

NOW is usually my favorite time of year. The beginning hurdles of the new school year have been somewhat successfully cleared and the cool weather is settling in nicely. Today I took down all the overtly Halloween-ish decor, turned all the jack-o-lanterns around so as to enjoy another festive month of pumpkins with their visual punctuations of orange, and brought out the turkeys made by little boy hands in pre-school art class all those years ago. The happy echo of Trick-or-Treaters still lingers faintly on the breeze and the end caps on grocery store aisles are now laden with pie filling, shelled pecans, and brown sugar as Thanksgiving looms. Christmas seems--thankfully--far enough away to avoid a panic attack over card sending and gift buying. It's a good in-between place to be.

And yet I can't shake the sad. I've been an empty nester for 13 months, a veteran in that department among a few of my friends, but I have no easy answers that would explain how to navigate that world. No treasure map nor operator's manual showing one how to extend a willing hand to the future while letting go of the nostalgic past. Each day is its own unique sampling of joy or angst and either can show up on my doorstep with little or no warning.

These days, any random memory of holidays with our children--when they were children-- can just as easily provoke tears as they can a smile. Those of you still in the trenches are probably asking if I have lost my mind don't remember the torture of late evenings overseeing countless homework or projects, sitting on cold, aluminum bleachers at yet another school baseball game. The PTA meetings or yet another birthday party for some unknown classmate at the Skate Palace. The OMG! emotional firestorm of adolescent relationships...or  your kid's desire for one when there were none being offered. Of course! I remember all of it as well as wishing for (what seemed to be) mythical time in the future when I didn't have to worry so damned much. Raising kids could sometimes be its own brand of emotional "house arrest" but I can tell you now that the silence when it is over can be just as deafening as the sounds of chaos when we were in the thick of it.

Their empty rooms are so still. Beyond silent. And despite the twice-monthly attentions of vacuum and dust rag? Musty.  Much like a museum filled with relics that no one uses anymore.

Sure, Thanksgiving is coming up. The visiting offspring will arrive armed with boundless energy and stories of people I don't know taking part in events I didn't witness. They will wear clothes I didn't purchase and they will exchange secrets with each other that we, their parents, will never hear.  At night they will awkwardly climb into old beds that no longer feel as though they fit and drive away the next day with leftovers and full gas tanks, courtesy of Mom and Dad. It's the least we can do and our parting benediction for children who are growing up and away with a speed that leaves me absolutely breathless.

The other day our youngest called me... bemoaning Halloween as a college student in a house with no visible vestiges of the holiday. At least, the kind he grew up with. He was throwing together a last minute costume for a party, but he said it didn't feel like the old Halloweens of his childhood. His words connoted an ersatz thank you for the years of pumpkin carving, costume making and skeleton-themed paper napkins lovingly tucked into school lunch boxes for every day in October.  In that moment, we were two interlocking puzzle pieces: He with the multiple friends in costumes but no familiar (read: home-y) reminders of the holiday and me with the house full of tangible memories and themed artifacts...and no kids to enjoy it.  Two people standing on separate islands sharing the same sweet memory through two tin cans and a piece of string.

Childless people are going to read this and think,  "Move on, Nancy"!" They would be justified. And perhaps those who have actually lost a child are simply going to want to throw up after reading my self-indulgent drivel. I get that too.  It ought to be "Hakuna Matata" around here all day long, right?  Elton John singing The cirrrcle of life while we nod enthusiastically and then make the kind of weekend plans couples typically make when they only have to worry about themselves after 24 years of living life "on call". We're all okay and we have our health! It should be enough.

How ironic is it that we spend our childhood simply wishing for time to go forward and then spend the rest of adulthood wanting to go back? Maybe I'm not asking to go back and start all over again and upon reflection? I'm not.  But what I wouldn't give for one last brisk autumn night in order to escort a mummy, a spider and a tiny pirate down down a leafy neighborhood street on a quest for candy.
RM writes one of Mrs. G's favorite blogs (the woman can write), appropriately called Rainbow Motel.

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Reader Comments (15)

I am in the same boat and don't think you are being self indulgent at all. It's a transition stage like all of life but it's hard to let go of those hands and hearts as they take off into their own lives , though we know it is really what we want (and have prepared them for) in the long run. Hopefully, they will always come home enthusiastically and in time with partners and eventually new small folk who we will love with a different kind of love that belongs to grandchildren alone. That's what I am counting on and looking forward to the family expanding in new and hopefully interesting ways as they find people who will share their journey and love them. I can pnly hope they are as lucky as their father and I have been.

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbramble

This is so beautifully written, Rainbow.

November 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterMrs. G.

I love this post. It is bittersweet sometimes to look at my son's baby pictures, sheer agony to remember times when I thought I was too busy to play a game or go to the park. It all happened so very quickly.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I'm childless, yet I didn't feel that way at all. This was so lovely. Although I will never experience these feelings, I see it in my friends' longing for their children, which over time seems to transition neatly into an amazing love affair with grandchildren. Plus, I once was a young woman venturing out on her own, wondering why my mother felt so lost without us around. This helps me understand her better, from a distance of many years. Thank you for that.

"Two people standing on separate islands sharing the same sweet memory through two tin cans and a piece of string." Beautiful.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDATdeborah

I love your writing. This is wonderful.

I have been an empty nester now for quite some time - maybe six years. It was hard to accept at first, and the hardest thing was to realize that he was really never coming back home. I mean, he visits. But it's not his home anymore, he carries that with him. And yet - as the years went on, I realized that, and I also watched him grow and develop and make dumb mistakes and have cool adventures, and I have to say, I am so proud of him. You will be, too, of yours.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

My youngest is a senior in High School this year. His brother went to University 3 years ago. The 1st one leaving made me sick enough. I'm trying to think of something that will help me through the period you're in now. Maybe a vacation that needs extensive planning, or a home remodel that has a lot mental and physical labor involved. Something to take my mind off the too quiet house. Ugh.. I'm don't think you can prepare for this, you just have to get through it. Hugs to you and future me.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLizzie

I get it, even though I have no children of my own. Last night I dreamed about watching my two nieces set off together to go shopping, while I thought about the time when I would have been taking them. The sadness and feeling of being left behind in the dream was shocking - I had no idea I missed them that much. Thanks for sharing this - it's going to prompt a journal entry of my own.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBriget

I always find your writing wonderful.

I am lucky to not feel like this at all about my empty nest--it's just the way I'm wired. I have fervently loved every stage of life with kids and this one is no different. I do think that one of the keys for me was shaking up my life all around to coincide with the kids leaving. I knew I would need somewhere to put my considerable energy and focus and I have it--some by design and other by accident. I also think every day away is a step closer to grandkids. Grandkids! I cannot wait.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenn @ Juggling Life

Eloquently said. Our son headed off to college 3 years ago. Yesterday I wandered into a toy store for no good reason and caught myself in a weird time warp seeing the boy and the man.
It gets different with time and practice, for me the key is acknowledging the sad, then moving through it.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKlcrab

I might just be a horribly melancholic idiot, but I already miss my kids and they are not leaving this nest for quite a few years (currently in 9th and 5th grade). I'm enjoying them so much at their current age I can't imagine them not being here. And not sharing all their time with us (as they do now) and having separate lives with secrets and stuff I don't know. It freaks me out to think about it. Even as I am freaking out about the busyness resulting those two children. They exhaust me and wear me out and frustrate me and I never ever ever want them to go away and I can't wait all at the same time...

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSlow Panic

Oh, I did need to read this today.
It is a almost exactly how I feel.
Their rooms are empty, and there is dust on the Star Wars posters and there is still a daisy figurine that no one wants under one of the beds.
It's like their rooms are waiting for them to come back, and I have this feeling of inertia about cleaning them out.

I'm glad they are grown and happy and they have the skills to lead their own independent lives.
...but it touches some place when the younger daughter says, "Will you come shopping mum because I want a Christmas tree just like the one we've always had."
...and the older daughter flies from London to Australia just to spend 2 weeks with us over the holidays.

There are little memories like ghosts still running around the house, and ringing bicycle bells.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah J

Thank you, Rainbow, and a huge thank you and welcome back, Mrs. G. I love this place, and was sooo very pleased to see several recent posts on here since I last checked in. Feels like "home". I have three adult children, late 20's and early 30's, with one still living here at home. All of them work, seem relatively happy in their lives, but I miss them as young children so much, and feel a lot of regret about past decisions or actions, that I think have lead to some of the distance and conflict that there is at times with them individually now, or with my hsbd. It's hard to stop beating myself up and find a way out of the "coulda, shoulda, woulda" way of thinking when times get rocky. I do love my kids with all my heart. Anyways, I am grateful for being able to find a connection here, and links to other women's blogs that I can relate to! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter~ Galiena

My oldest left for college this year and this seemed all too close. :( Dang it, now I'm so sad.

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteredj

I hear you loud and clear. I've been doing the empty nest dance for oh....10 years or more?? I've adjusted pretty well (for the most part), but have my moments when I get sucker punched. A few months ago, I was feeling lonely....sitting at a light waiting for it to turn green and through the intersection, drove my youngest a hurry, heading on with her life. I waved (she didn't see me), smiling like an idiot, and all of a sudden I was puddling up. She's married, was pregnant at the time....a whole life separate from mine. And then I smacked myself on the head and gave myself a good talking to and reminded myself (sniff) that I did good - she's good and I will be just fine. And the car next to me probably got a pretty good show with the crazy lady act!

Lovely post....

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Carol

So beautifully written that it reached out and squeezed my heart. When my twins went off to college (separately), I didn't know how to survive. My friends couldn't comprehend - I was FREE! FREE of the Ex, FREE of the kids, nothing to do but party all day! (and work 60 hours a week). But every time I walked down the hallway past their bedrooms, the tears hit. Every. Damn. Time. (OK may not every time...) Oh sure we had Skype and emails and phones and near daily chatter. But I Just. Missed. Them. Moving 1000 miles south to be with the Captain and love of my life helped a little. But I still miss them so much. And I can't wait until Christmas when they will be home! The thought of them graduating and having their own place? Oh, don't even think it... now to go find your blog so I can read more of your amazing stories!

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Next Door

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