The Empty Nest – Now What?

Boy Room

My hubby and I have been married for 37 years. We got pregnant on our honeymoon. This is the first time we have been married, and truly alone, in all that time. And I’m not gonna lie, this is hard. Why? Because I have operated as “wife,” “mom,” and “homeschooling mom” all these years. And now my role has significantly changed. Wife is never changing and the role I love above the others. And, oh, I’m still mom, but in a phone call, long distance sort of way. I’m a grandma in an email, phone call, text message way, too. Because we don’t see our kids very often. Rarely, in fact. And this youngest son was our last connection to our kids and parenting. And it is just so weird. The house feels so empty. That room I was constantly annoyed with because it was like a bomb went off in it, is now empty. He even vacuumed it before he left. The walls are blank – no more flags, hats, and t-shirts covering every inch of it. No more lego creations on every surface, video games and DVDs in piles everywhere, confused with clean and dirty laundry. It was completely, 100-percent, boy room.

The Empty Room

We have had so many experiences raising our boys. Some have been outright hilarious. Some have been frightening. But they have been times of growth and love and precious moments. And now they are all off on their own. Wow. Honestly, you stop to take a breath and suddenly 30 years have gone by. When I was in HS, I recall talking to my mom about how boring summer time was, and how I couldn’t wait for school to start so I could hang out with my friends and I wished summer would just hurry up and be over. And my mom’s reply was, “Don’t wish your life away, because one day you will be my age and wish time would slow down.” I laughed it off, but I’ve never forgotten that moment. And now I truly understand. I have seen some cute memes and tik tok videos posted online that basically say, “I wish I could turn back the hands of time. Not to undo things, but to relive those precious moments that went far too quickly.” Boy, can I relate to that.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

ecclesiastes 3:1

And this is the time for my husband and myself, to reimagine our futures with just the two of us. We would like lots of interaction with our kiddos, but we understand they are off exploring new continents and raising their own armies. We are here, manning the homestead. And to that end, today I cleaned up and organized just a little bit. I re-organized my starter plant shelves. I organized my seeds and got my starter pots set up. After I get my back to stop spasming, I will plant my seeds. I will map out my garden. I will make sure my grow lights are functioning. I will step forward into the new paradigm of an “empty-nester.”

This time is new for us, and yet we’ve been practicing for years. The older kids have been gone more than a decade. So it’s been just three of us. Our youngest son has been pursuing his dreams and has been gone for months at a time, leaving my husband and I floundering and giggling, all at the same time. Now that all his things are gone, it changes it up just a little bit. It feels like the house is that much emptier. And boy, do we have plans for that space! And I get excited but there are tears at the back of my throat, all at the same time.

The world is careening out of control. We are bombarded by news that curls the toes, and not in a good way. We are told things that are simply non-sensical. We are given bits and pieces of truth and oh, so many lies. And how do we navigate this miasma of chaos? We hold tight to the hand of those we love. And even though my kids and grandkids are scattered, my husband is my reality and my life. We committed to one another all those years ago, and that commitment has just grown stronger. We are making plans for our garden, for our camper, for our dogs, and for us. It is sort of exciting. With a lump in my throat, nonetheless.

Me and my hubby…

“And just like that…”

It’s so interesting how our minds work. I had a horrible nightmare last night..well, technically it was extremely early this morning…and woke to my 15-year-old dog barfing his guts out at the foot of my bed (luckily into his dog bed itself). To tell the truth, it was almost worse than the nightmare. Reality can do that to you, every once in a while. Your mind has you reeling and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat, thinking life is pretty bad, and then your dog throws up at your feet. And this morning, it was so very dark. It was black as night, which is why I was so confused.  It’s just week one of Daylight Savings Time – I really dislike the time change – and I am exhausted. Not only that, it is pitch black at 6:30am. So I had to find my way to a light to see what I was dealing with. Meanwhile, I was sweating over my nightmare and not fully aware of what was happening. And to be honest yet again, I think dealing with a sick dog is preferable to my dream, in many ways. In this particular case, once I was fully awake, I would much rather deal with my sick dog.

You see, in my dreams, I lost one of my sons. He snapped; he became someone he never was, nor anyone I had raised him to be. He exhibited behavior I had never expected of him. I was begging him. I was yelling at him. I was losing him and there was nothing I could do to stop his decisions. In my dream, I was cowering in my closet, crying and inconsolable. I think losing a child to poor choices is probably the worst thing I can imagine. I know people who have children who have struggled with addictions and who have served time in prison, or who have been admitted to rehab over and over again. I have seen families split apart who have not returned to a cohesive unit. And I have seen the pain in a parent’s eyes over their lost children.

And I cannot help but think of the world, and our country, right now. It feels like we are turning our backs on God. We have walked away from the basics of our faith. We have allowed the world in, so much so, that we have forgotten God. We have chosen to live life as we choose, away from His Word for us.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent (the Icon depicted above) St.John Climacus exhorts us to pay attention. If you look at the icon you can see how decisions are affecting the eternity of those climbing. There are many ways in which we can see how, as a culture, we have chosen the world over its creator. The creation has become the master of the creator. It is usurped and upside down. And it can only lead to disaster. It can lead to each of us falling off the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” our own pathway to heaven.

I read an article today by a young woman who was raised by her German grandmother. Her grandmother warned her that war was coming to us. As a young girl, her grandmother had tried to warn her own family in Germany, prior to World War 1, of an upcoming war, but none of them listened to her. So she fled to America via Ellis Island. She saw the “writing on the wall” (Daniel 5).  And she raised her children and grandchildren to be aware of the world – the history, culture, and markers that signal disaster is coming. And she believes we are, once again, headed for international disaster. Quite often, I feel that God needs a 2×4 to get my attention; I see these markers and yet I disdain them and blow them off. This dream, which was making me extremely upset, was stopped by my dog, before I could take the imagery further. Why did I dream about my son like that? I think it is because I realized his entire school experience, the sum total of all my years of schooling my children, is due to our homeschool by May 1st. The final grades for his last year of homeschooling. And that is so very close. As in 6 weeks close. As in my entire brood will have graduated from High School and be making their way into the world. And it scares me. For a variety of reasons. My babies are all adults. All of them. And here I sit.

You know, God experienced the “empty nest” syndrome, too. He had to expel Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden. As a parent, we sometimes have to make those tough calls. Of course, God knew that He was setting mankind on the pathway back to Him. He granted us free will, which allows us to follow or reject Him. Our children have free will. Eve was easily tempted by an apple, because of her free will, and the demonic presence whispering in her ear. She then infected Adam with the need to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, the one plant the Lord asked them to not eat. Isn’t that how it goes? What we are told we cannot have, we want all the more??  God gives us ample opportunities to choose Him. He allows us the opportunity to experience what the world has to offer. He allows us to feel sated by the world. To our “in the moment” minds; to our “if it feels good do it” mentality; to our “it will be fine, you will see” logic, we choose the pathway that is easier, wider, simpler. Being a follower of God, of Christ, is the single, most difficult thing I have ever chosen to do. But I cannot deny the pull of my heart; that emptiness that no amount of anything in this world fills, but God. The fear of my son making poor choices for his life? Isn’t that the fear all parents share? Most especially our God? He saw how our poor choices mounted, again and again. And He sent us His Son, to lead us each to salvation. Each of us. I can worry all I want about my kids; in fact, I always will. I may have sleepless nights until my eternal sleep, worrying about my children and grandchildren. Because as a parent, we never, ever stop worrying.

Once again, God has directed us to Him through the gift of Lent. He never stops worrying about us. I will never stop worrying about my family, or my friends. It’s part of who I am, as a woman, and as a mother. Each year, we are given a wonderful opportunity to re-direct our lives away from this crazy, inviting, world and direct ourselves towards God. We have this chance for more prayer, for reflection, for a metanoia of the heart, mind and soul. So even if this world is careening out of control, we firmly stand on the Rock, the Church. We have our faith to ground us, prepare us, to set a wall around our hearts. We don’t know when things will occur. And we need to always stay prepared. God has our best interests at heart as the Creator of all of us. He will never stop welcoming us Home to Him. And that one thing helps me sleep at night, and helps keep most nightmares at bay.

I know my kids are growing up and moving on. I know it. It’s just hard to deal with it some days. But facing these fears, in the light of day, and the Light of Christ, gives me strength. And just like that….