Every parent experiences the empty nest at some point, I know this. But what if we didn’t have to tuck it all down and experience it alone? Vulnerability in the midst of struggle is not my specialty, but sometimes I feel that my saying something might be just what someone else needs.

The perfect quote for an empty nest on a winter sunrise background.

“And this, he decides, is what a good-by should be.
Not a period, but an ellipsis, a statement trailing off, until someone is there to pick it up.”

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

Goodbyes are so hard. The end of a chapter, the turning of the page. I loved this ellipsis analogy. I often use those, and my son tries to tell me I’m doing it wrong. “It’s not a pause, Mom!” I know but…I like it that way! Think about it.

“Goodbye.”
Door shut. Time’s up. It’s over.

“Goodbye…”
Turns slowly. Starts walking. What’s next?

It’s different and it feels so much better.

And then this one.

“That time always ends a second before you’re ready.
That life is the minutes you want minus one.”

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

Yes, it does. I’m going through a big one of these right now. My youngest child has gone off to University in another state. I’m officially retired from everyday Mom-ing.

I have an empty nest.

Everyone knows that once you’re a mom, you’re always a mom. We have an amazingly close relationship. I never experienced that “teenage” stuff, where they shut themselves off from me. I know they’ll always be texting, sending me pictures, and coming back to visit as often as they can.

But… (I did it again)

I’m alone here all day now. And when my husband is done working, we’re alone all evening and all night. And when I get up in the morning, there’s no reason to keep quiet. I can do what I want at any time of day. The TV isn’t on unless I’m watching it. No one is playing music in the middle of the night. No one interrupts what I’m doing. It’s so damn boring.

I’ll admit that I was excited to retire. We have three kids. When the first one left, we relaxed. There was a bit more space in the house. When the second one left, we were happy. There he goes! Two down, one to go! We looked forward to the youngest taking off. If all three of our kids were out in the world taking care of themselves, we were off the hook. We did it. Done! Children are a huge, long-term commitment. It’s incredibly stressful.

But… (he he he)

It’s so quiet. And then…I’m choking up again as I write…can’t we have one more day? One more drive into the city? One more dinner? One more, “Guys! WTF? Can you not?!”

I wasn’t ready.
I seriously underestimated how hard an empty nest would be.

But…

Are we ever ready? I don’t think so. We just have to dive in and keep flailing around until we notice we’re swimming.

I’ve hesitated to write about this for several reasons. It’s so fresh. I’m still working through it. I don’t need other people’s crap right now. But it keeps coming back up. A scratch in the record that needs to be dealt with, not ignored. You’ll only keep hearing it every time you get to that part of the music.

The first is, as usual, I don’t want to make my kids feel bad. They are doing nothing wrong by growing up and going out into the world. Pursuing our own path is what we all do. That’s normal and good. While I’d certainly have no problem with them living here forever, I want them to chase their own dreams without worrying that the mother they love so much is having a nervous breakdown. It would defeat the purpose of raising children into adults if they were so afraid to hurt my feelings that they never left home.

The second is that I’m not good at being this vulnerable. While I’m good at telling others what I’ve already been through and worked on, I cringe at the thought of asking for sympathy and help as I need it. I’ve recently come to notice that my culture fosters independence over just about anything else and I’m not sure it’s all that healthy. Stand on your own two feet. Buck up. Don’t be such a baby about it. From childhood and adolescence, into adulthood, marriage, children, and on until we die, we’re encouraged to keep our feelings to ourselves, to deal with our own shit alone.

I’m starting to question the wisdom in that. The times that I have reached out to talk to someone about something I’m going through, I’ve always found that I’m not alone. Life’s stages are common. We all move through them. Amazingly enough, no matter what you’re going through, there are others that have been there, felt that. The key is finding those people, and they’re usually very close by, remaining silent, believing they are alone in the world too.

And the third reason is people’s reaction. I don’t find support when I express my pain, I generally find platitudes, dismissal, or worse…help or sympathy. We’re not trained in supporting others through something difficult. Have you ever felt something so strongly, a feeling you just don’t want to feel and can’t get away from? Have you ever told someone about it and they said, “That’s just life. It’ll be better tomorrow.” Yeah…not helpful. Or worse, “Everyone feels that. You’re being ridiculous.” And “I told you this was coming.”

What do I want? To be completely honest, I’m not sure. Maybe I simply want to be heard and to get a hug. I’d like to hear an affirmation. “This must suck.” Or “I feel that from you.” Maybe even questions like, “What are you going to do?” I also really enjoy hearing other people’s painful stories. “There was a time I felt that way.” Or “I remember when…” I hear that and I think, “Yes. I’m not alone. I’m just one of the humans here. Life does go on.” And then I consider what’s next or cry some more. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to wallow in my sadness awhile.

Ultimately, the story continues no matter what happens to any of us. It isn’t a period, end of line, close the book. It’s just…what’s next?

I blogged about “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” when I started reading it back in January. It certainly didn’t take me long to read it all. I couldn’t put it down! Have you read it? You can find it on Thriftbooks.com if you don’t have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments when you read it!