Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Empty Room

Barbara: It’s not an “empty nest”. That’s a stupid innocuous metaphor that makes it all sound so mild and ordinary. So whatevs. I mean, come on! Birds have at least one empty nest a season; they’re used to it. It’s in their blood to nudge their fledglings out and at ‘em. But for me, for ME, it’s an empty empty EMPTY ROOM.

Or it will be next week.

As I write this, I am in full prep-mode for moving our youngest to her university town for her first year of school. As you read this, however, I will be in the middle of actually doing it. I figured that since I would have my hands full and maybe not great access to the internet, I should write and post this now. The thing is as I write this, I’m trying to stay in denial. I know this. My daughter knows it. It’s the only way I can cope. I am keeping myself busy, distracted, trying to avoid the conscious acknowledgement of the future “empty room”. But as I write this, the emotional truth is rising up, hitting me square in the chest.
Michele at 6. I could say something cheesy about the plane and "flying away", but I won't...
I am very very very very very close with both my daughters. We talk about everything, share most things, ask for advice, offer it up, and love each other in great big obvious swaths of colour. My older daughter—as much as she would have loved to study elsewhere—really only had one choice of schools for her major and that was here. My younger’s choice of schools was also obvious, but it meant she would have to leave home to attend it. So at 17, she’s packing her stuff and moving out. She is ready, “chomping at the bit” even. She loves us and loves home and all that, but she can’t wait to taste her true independence.
Because this one just makes us all laugh...
Just because...

Because when you start with one cute kid shot, it's hard to stop...

And because you've already seen her all grown up...
And I’m not saying we’re attached at the hip or anything—she is very independent already, hanging with friends and working hard first at school, then at her part-time jobs (yes, two of them)—but we talk A LOT. Ours are chat sessions that last hours as we catch up and discuss and analyze and pull out our imaginary crystal balls to predict the future. I love these sessions. I hardly know what I will do without them. I don’t care that I will have more time to write, to work and to think. I will miss these talks with ever fibre of my being.

I know fundamentally all will be well and good; I will get to reconnect with my husband, myself, my cleaner house; I’ll get used to it; it will be the new normal; there are phone calls and texting and skype. Blah blah blah.

But the truth is it is a heartbreaking and difficult transition, this one. My baby is leaving and her room will never be the same. Sure, it might be a lot cleaner. Sure, I might have greater access to my towels, my bathroom, my kitchen counter, my clothes. But that soon-to-be clutter-free, laundry-less bedroom across for my own will now loom like a portal­­––maybe to an old life, maybe to the new one––and it’s now-open door will be a daily reminder of who is gone.

This might all be overly dramatic or emotional or just plain wrong, but I’m telling you: this is exactly how it feels on this day. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Deb: Not too dramatic at all in my opinion, for you know I have been there and you know the whole sad wrenching tale. Thought I would die the day the boy left. I felt so empty I could not fathom how I was able to stand up with nothing inside to hold me together.
I will tell you though from my vantage point three years post leaving: it does get better. It becomes normal, it becomes just your life. As quickly as the hands-on Mum in grade school grade school was forced to become the hands-off Mum in high school, you will adapt.

But yeah, the room.

Fortunately the boy’s room is on the other side of our home so I don’t have to pass by it every day as you do. But it brings to mind one of the best parenting choices I ever made. When Luke was growing up we never ever fought about the state of chaos that was his room. Our only rule was: tidy it on Thursday nights for the cleaning lady coming. He did, and it never became an issue. I never wanted to rant about pop cans and dirty underwear on the floor and I didn’t. I knew that all too soon, it would be as neat as a pin and as empty as my heart.

Cut to three years later ... It’s a great place to keep the iron and ironing board.

But wow, do I ever look forward to that visiting carpet of dirty underwear when it appears, however brief. 


  1. Ahh, I remember when I first left for the first time...3 long years ago! Garsh. I couldn't wait to be on my own; my sis and I were practically shoving mom and dad out the door!! Right around this time last year I started classes for the first time. My first year of college was also a bit easier, since I lived with my sister in the dorms (not anymore though). Honestly I never really got homesick and when I was home I just couldn't wait to get back.

    Except this year. This year it was actually really hard to come back here in Kentucky. My mom and I grew so much closer this summer than in year. A big rift that had separated us is now gone, and I'm so thankful. As I hugged my mom goodbye almost two weeks ago, I said "I wish I didn't have to leave yet." In the past, because when I was here and not at home I didn't have to be in all of that or that situation. Now we are both so much more open with each other, and I'm sure my being in Scotland had a part to play. Man, when you go to college, sometimes you really do miss what you have when it's gone.

    Barb, I think your daughter will have a great time in college! There's so much to learn, not just academically, but also about herself. If I could give her any advice, it would be this, (I'm quoting Deb's wonderful husband) "spend the time because it goes just like that." And when she's gone and out of the house, think about all the exciting opportunities she will be encountering in this new part of her life. (is she far away from home?) Coming here for college was the best thing I've ever done for myself.

    Ok, now I miss my family. Perhaps I shall call them tonight. Thanks for the memories :]

  2. Thanks Kelly! It's funny, reading both your experiences and your sister's has brought me more insight into my daughters' experiences -- you can see the transformations happening, the gears working, in those blog letters from afar.

    She is 6 hours away from home, so not close but not far. Today we have another full day of setting up IKEA beds (thank god for the AS IS section!) and hanging mirrors and shelves, making sure locks and smoke detectors work and finding internet service. We've been falling into bed every night exhausted and going gangbusters all day (because she chose not to stay in res). I am finding myself getting used to the idea. She is already blossoming in her new environment, so excited, so hopeful, so full of life. I agree, Kelly, I think we will get even closer when she is "gone" as it will amke our re-connection time that much more precious.

  3. Oohh this one really resonates with me. Being a single mother of three boys, it was particularly hard when one left after the other. Each time the vibe in the house changed and a piece of my heart went with them. When the last one left, I could not bear the empty rooms and quiet house, so I sold it and moved to a smaller one. One that didn't echo their running, laughter, fights and all the chaos that goes in to living with 3 wolf cubs.
    The move was heart wrenching. But now I had a clean slate where I could develop the next phase of my life. It was smaller but there was still room for more good memories, sleep overs and the occasional boy staying for an indefinite period while they figure out their future paths. There are many quiet, reflective times and lots of new friends, new neighbors, new area to explore.
    Barb, you are not being dramatic. my heart goes out to you. And Deb you are right, life does become normal....a new normal. A monumental change in our lives and as mothers, that is full of so many things. Good new memories and love to come!!!

  4. Aww Barb, This is cool your youngest is going to college. College is great it's alot of hard work but still a great time. True I am sure it will feel weird when she goes but think of this as the next chapter in her life. That's how my granparents though of it for me,and now that I am away from them for me it's like I am giving them that extra time to rebound and re connect and me more room to grow. Let me just so though I do come home to my grandparents home,to visit,and of corse the always open kitchen and laundra mat.

    Wishing your daughter all the Luck in the world as she begins her new journey in life.

  5. Barb, I'm not gonna's a bitch! Moved Hayden back to the dorms last week and am fighting the malaise that drops over me like a heavy, wet sheet when the kids return to campus. Don't get me wrong, the husband and I have tons of fun and fill our days just fine thanks but there's a void nonetheless. An impending sense that the most magical days are soon to be behind you...which qualifies somewhat as a consolation prize for a job well done.
    My son was in Manhattan as Irene was bearing down and he and his accompanying four friends made the decision to leave early. As Buffalo is en-route to Toronto, they all showed up here late Saturday afternoon and suddenly the house was alive and, dare I say, filled with purpose. Five of them taking turns in the showers while I refreshed towels and whipped up salad, pasta and breadsticks! Soon peals of laughter escaped from the dining room as I whipped up a ingredients-on-hand dessert. I couldn't help but consider how sad I'll be when these days are totally behind me...but how thankful I am to have had them at all. Hugs to you and Phil as you navigate the transition...

  6. *HUGS* Barb. I know that stage will come sooner than I think with my boy. You're handling this transition with dignity. Your feelings and reactions just show you're doing your job as a parent very well.

    I'm starting that beginning of that journey with my son just starting his last year of elementary school, and we're looking for high schools for him - and the thought makes me sad - he's growing up on me!!

    You're in my thoughts.

  7. Aw, thanks, you guys. I won't lie, your comments are making me cry. But in a good way. It's sooo poignant (best word for it). Annette, maybe those peals of laughter and refreshed towels will be a house full of grandkids one day... Off to slay more new apartment dragons! xoxo

  8. Oh Barb!!!!!!!!!!!! *warm fuzzies*

    I can now somehow relate to how my mom felt when she had to say "goodbye" to not one, but TWO of her babies. Kelly and I were the last to leave the nest, and like Kelly said, this time it was so much harder to leave. But I can honestly say that my mom and I are closer now than we ever have been. And yes, I still make time for my once-weekly weekend phone calls with mommy! :)

    Your daughter will LOVE college, though! It's such a cliche, but it really has been some of the best four years of my life! I wish your daughter the best of luck as she starts this new (and EXCITING!!!) chapter of her life! :)


  9. Ladies, as I read this post, with tears streaming down my face, this is the fear I have once my son leaves next summer...the ROOM...I can't imagine it without him! I love your blog and I'm so happy I found it...thanks for sharing:)I'm Susan, 43 with a 18 year old son and a 12 year old girl...nice to meet you both!

  10. So far I've managed to make sure my parents have one child to keep their home occupied and less empty than it would otherwise feel. I didn't have to move out to go to school (similar to your older daughter I attended a school a relatively short distance away). It was a lot easier on everyone, no hassle of buying a bunch of cheap furniture and other extra supplies or having to load up a U-Haul, nor was it required to purchase an additional laptop as they did for my other 3 sisters when they went off to school. Basically, I managed to save my parents a great deal of money while still managing to keep them company. I'll admit, at 28 they still allow me to reside in their basement free of charge. Though I do help out quite a bit with housekeeping and other expenses(usually groceries) as sort of a way to pay 'rent'. My sisters have all move out at least once, but have all 3 returned for a bit at one time or another (2 of which returned with their husband/boyfriend and children in tow. So the house still isn't very empty at any given time. I often wonder how my parents will be when it finally does get to that point. It's very gracious of them to put up with me living here for so long. They gave me until I'm 30 to move out, which will happen next year sometime. Unless I decide to move out before then. Stay strong Barb! It'll get better or at least become a new normal for you as Deb stated before. ((Hugs))! -Apey

  11. Oh, you're scaring me! I'm pretty sure my daughter is headed to community college her first two years, so hopefully I've got her for 4 more... the younger though, is less predictable... I may be 5 years from an empty nest myself. In our tiny house there will be constant reminders... one or both may even be as rotten as I was an move clear across the country...

    (there is floor in their rooms?)

  12. Okay I am the aberrant mother who loved when my sons moved out to go to college. I was getting divorced and itching to have my life start. I was only 19 when I married so I had no alone time. My sons were born when I was 22 and 24 and I was divorced at 39. As each one left I was secure in the fact that I had not gone away to college and that going away was going to change their lives dramatically and maybe with sons it was different with daughters. I did not have a great relationship with my Mom so I didn't share that mother daughter thing. My sons were independent and we loved each other and I just new for them flying to the midwest from Los Angeles was their ticket to exploration. For a time they ended up in Illinois with their wives and kids. Now my older son is back with his family and living on my very street 5 houses down and across the street. I would never have predicted this but love it. I love more that both my sons had the amazing opportunity to live away from home and find their own space in the world which I was too young to recognize or want at 19. I know you all will recover and there will come a time when you love your own surroundings and can enjoy the peacefulness of oneself (or with just your spouse or maybe not:)). Barb you will be a better Mom for encouraging the bird to fly.

  13. I forgot to mention I love the photos.

  14. Last night was the last one my 18-yr-old son spent here in this house as a permanent resident, and while it's time he moved on to the next phase of his adult life and I think we're both ready for it, I looked across the yard at him standing on the back step -- for the last time in a long time -- and my heart felt like it had just been smacked. One part of our lives is over and a new one is beginning. It's all good. But it still feels "weird" and jarring. He will be an eight-hour drive away so we won't see him often; I know it's time for him to go and everything, but our feelings are what they are, aren't they?

  15. Still in the midst of my own childrens childhood I'm not close yet to this big of a change and I'm certain I will be saddenned when it comes but there are much worse things to face. I think my thoughts may end up closer to those expressed by Madgew.

    Whenever I find myself on the verge of a new stage and dwelling on the days gone by or saddenned by my kids moving forward I find myself thinking of those children who are unable to. Those who will never be able to reach beyond a certain point or those who simply didn't live long enough for the chance.

    It is a sad thought but a reality I grew up with which changes my perception to one of gratitude as I watch my own children grow. I know saying it could be worse isn't much in the way of comfort but hey it's what I got.

  16. Great post as always, Barb! And, your daughter's pictures are very cute! :)
    Coincidentally, my parents and I just came back home from taking my older sis down to school, in South Carolina. She's in her senior year, and will graduate in May. She's already started hunting for a job- down there.
    Obviously, my parents aren't empty nest-ers, because I still live at home with them. But, after a few weeks, I'll start to miss my sister- just a little. ;) So, I'll be suffering from a slight case of "Empty Nest Syndrome", but not exactly. When you're siblings, it's a different dynamic. But, with her away, I've lost the person I pretty much talk to the most. Sure, we can use Facebook, instant messaging, and texting, but it's not the same. While she definitely has her annoying moments, I know I'll miss her. Christmas is a LONG time from now.
    Just thought I share, from a "kid's" point of view! :)

  17. Barb, what a beautiful bittersweet post. Thank you for sharing such a poignant time with us.

    (I live at home. I wonder if my parents wish the nest would have stayed empty for once. :) )


  18. It's interesting to read from both perspectives (the parents like Annette and Kate and Madge and and Hart and Jo and Mary-Jo and Carolyn and Susan -- hi Susan!!) and the kids (like Kelly and Lyndsie and Holly and Apey and Beth and Dawn). It's emotional no matter how you "cut it". But Erin, I certainly agree with the other side of it. I can't begin to count the amount of times I realized it might not be thus -- so many variables come into play to even get us here to this precious place. Thanks all!!

  19. Comment for Deb:

    "Tidy the (house) before the cleaning lady comes."
    One of us has missed the point here. It's probably me, because my mother said the same thing when we hired maid service for her for a day. :)

  20. Just now had a chance to weigh in on this and it is with good news Barb! Yesterday the three of us took a long 6k walk through the gorgeous forest and atop the rocky cliffs of Trinity Bay in Newfoundland. We puffed and panted (okay just Colin and I)and we laughed, played word games and walked in comfortable silence. I started thinking about the empty nest concept and realized that although our nest has been empty for three years, that we will always have this. We will have a son who has become our friend, who wants and needs to spend time with us. He will do this not because he lives in our home and has to cross our path. He will do it because he wants to, because he likes us. I know your darling girls will be the same. They say you can't choose your family but oh how glorious it is when they choose you.

  21. Oh and I forgot to answer Dawn's question. Yes I am a big believer in that actually. I don't think it's the cleaning gals job to pick up one's dirty underwear and pop cans and crap off of one's floor. I think it's her job to clean, scrub, polish wash and straighten. I just asked him to do that out of respect for her. Then she can go home and pick her own kids dirty socks up! :-)

  22. Deb, that was sooooo beautiful! Thank you!!!! Beautiful in spirit and also beautiful in description and truth. You've made my day. Love you!!

  23. The first time I read the title of this blog, even before I read it I was reminded of a poem I wrote in high school. It was simply titled 'My Room and I' (which I've come to realize may not have been grammatically correct, beside the point...) Anyway, the poem was primarily about the objects in the room becoming more personalized and more or less becoming aquaintances of the reader. I wish I'd still had the poem, but it's long gone now. Oddly enough I scrambled to write it within the last 5 minutes of class. It ended up being by far the favorite of my teacher and she decided to read it to the class the following day. It read moreso from the perspective of a 'crazy' person and being as such my classmates took it as such to move their desks further away from me taking things far too seriously. I even had a friend withhold from being my friend for a while. Thought I'd share. Make sure not to become this way, Barb! You have us, actual people here to keep you company if you need us;) -Apey

  24. *rubs temples*

    I would just like to state for the record that when my son graduates in a smidgen less than 6 years from today and then either moves in with his father or moves off to university, I will NOT miss the incessant, constant, unrelenting, unceasing discussions of VIDEO GAMES!!!

    *bangs head on desk*

    Mom needs some quiet time.

  25. OMG Rigel you mean it's not only my kid who is likewise obsessed??? I won't miss that either.

    I do hope, as Deb has experienced, that one day he'll "want" to spend time with me instead of being "stuck with" me. A mom can hope!

  26. I remember what this felt like and Deb is right - it doesn't get easier, but it becomes more normal. I swear we just brought her home from the hospital in a carseat.

  27. I couldn't even make it thru this post without crying (and I posted in a similar vein today on Staying Afloat...). And I'm still two years away. I don't know how I'll survive that EMPTY room. I just tell myself that somehow I will.

    and this: "and love each other in great big obvious swaths of colour," is a wonderful description.


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