By Debby Shulman
My husband and I have arrived at the ultimate crossroads of parenting. We stand at the corner of Empty and Nester and that pop you just heard is the cork from the champagne bottle we saved for just this occasion. And, I don’t mind admitting I think I’m finally finished shedding tears. (Okay, that’s a lie. But I’m getting really close.)
With our youngest child graduating from high school, we look ahead with giddy amazement, deep gratitude and an exhausted sigh of relief we actually survived the 24 years spent raising our three kids. And this past weekend our baby walked across the stage and clasped her diploma like her brothers before her. The final phase of this little service project sealed and delivered; we celebrate our good fortune at what could have been just a disastrous social experiment.
We keep crossing our fingers some unnamed reality TV host won’t jump out and yell, “It’s a hoax!! THEY’RE ALL COMING BACK!”– and we’re forced to register someone for Drivers Ed or sit through another painful version of children’s theater “Cinderella.” I don’t want to go back to T-Ball, or cheerleading try-outs or PTA meetings. I don’t want to worry about standardized tests, lice or MEAN GIRLS or not making the team.
I cannot spend one more minute lying awake wondering if I did a good enough job or if nose piercings cause staph. We kept them safe. We fed them gluten. They made it.
But not without a road paved with mistakes.
I’m over the Mommy-blogger, weepy-eyed magical, mystery tour of childhood. No tear-jerking, Kleenex-blowing parenthood tale here … I am the saltier, more brazen, badass version of YoungMom 2.0.
Parenting is so damn hard: I wonder why I let my attention settle on so much stupid. I wish I had embraced this confident wisdom as a younger Mom so I could have pulled my head out of my ass and just let a lot of stuff (and drama) go.
I don’t mean to disrespect legitimate concerns felt by parents everywhere but trust me when I beg you, no plead – that when you feel that tug of gut-wrenching emotion or righteousness or indignation – you step away from that emotional ledge and ask yourself, “Is this really worth it?” Will a college reject her because there are C’s on the middle school report card? Do I really care if she makes her bed or cleans her room? Does it really matter if his fourth grade teacher SUCKS? Do I really need to send my daughter to the popular camp “where all the girls go?” And the answer, of course, remains a resounding NO.
I read Facebook posts on certain “Mommy” pages and want to calmly reassure Young Moms everywhere that it gets much, much WORSE. Because just when we feel things might be getting easier, those little buggers find a way to give us something bigger to worry about … and all that nonsense about sleep training your newborn makes about as much sense as NOT sleep training your newborn. Bottles or boobs?? Who the hell cares? Just trust me when I confess the most demanding moments of babyhood drastically pale in comparison to the sleepless nights tossing and turning because they seem despondent, sad, depressed and distant. There isn’t a chapter on moodiness in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”
(I kind of want my money back. They completely skipped over the Dark Days of Adolescence.)
Because no matter what you do, the road to EmptyNesterhood remains a bumpy, long and winding ride; nobody ever comes out unscathed.
We all have the scrapes, scars and bruises to show for this journey. NO short cuts, no perfect kids, no perfect parents. So those super cute “together” Moms in the carpool line who have spotless SUV’s, always wear ‘outfits’ and NEVER wear yoga pants? They feel just as anxious as you only about different stuff. You don’t get to live in my new neighborhood without facing the reality that we create ridiculous crap to worry about because it gives us an excuse to NOT focus on the really hard stuff. And the hard stuff will suck the life right out of you.
Try raising a kid on the spectrum. Try dealing with a transgendered teen. Give gay a whirl.
But we all survive.
That’s my point. As we matriculate through adolescence as parents, we begin to see how critical it is to accept the REAL. To live in the truth; yeah, I have a kid who made a pretty careless mistake. So does everybody else. I get to claim residency in my new neighborhood because I earned it.
And so the beauty that accompanies life in “EmptyNesterhood” lies in the spontaneity and fun that appears on the horizon. The road ahead no longer looks like a Disney rollercoaster on steroids, but more like a Cialis commercial – trust me, nobody in our neighborhood wants to see us dancing on our sun-drenched driveway after cleaning out the garage or lounging in bathtubs on the lawn, but I certainly understand the ‘freedom’ the commercial implies. No children appear in Cialis commercials – and for good reason.
EmptyNesterhood frees me from worrying about what’s for dinner. That question plagued me more than any other over the last 20 years. I spent way too much time worrying about something that would often take two hours to prepare and then 12 minutes to eat. The youngest sits and stares at the bleak vittles we put before her. Blinking over and over, she looks down and up at us in utter disbelief. These are not the meals of her childhood. These are the meals of two completely exhausted and overworked parents on the brink of moving into EmptyNesterhood. And admittedly, my meals of late lack culinary creativity and appropriate food group representation – but they’re REAL and they’re GOOD … probably because I learned Sriracha makes everything better.
Our impending bucket list gets longer. Living in EmptyNesterhood means we save the travel section of the Sunday Times for more than kindling. Our list of places to travel and explore grows with the reality of enjoying this first year on our own. Yet, every time we throw darts on our map of adventure, they coincidentally land on the cities our children call home.
That’s so weird, right?
I guess the truth lies with the fact that EmptyNesterhood doesn’t release you from Parenthood – that address never changes. But it opens doors into a new neighborhood we look forward to sharing (and sometimes exploring) with our adult children.
Lisa Barr, editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor specializing the development of college and graduate school applications with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen Magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Find her on Facebook at Debbyshulman.com< back