Wednesday, September 26, 2012


"Life is so unnerving, for a servant who's not serving. You're not whole without a soul to wait upon..."
---Lumiere, of Beauty and the Beast, singing about  Empty Castle Syndrome

There's an expression in baseball, meant to urge on the batter: "You've seen it now." 

I thought about it, and I'm going to post about Empty Nest again. I've seen it now. It's bigger than I am, this transition, and so I'm pretty sure it's big for other people too, and at this point in my Personal Life Transition (formerly known as Empty Nest), it's best to share.

There are several things worth mentioning about the Personal Life Transition and this post will be about not ignoring them. This post will be about respecting your inner crybaby. Frankly, this post will be one I'd read myself if I weren't writing it.  

Last night I had dinner with a friend who will soon face daily life without children at home, as I did a month ago. We discussed this transition for a while. How empty nest begins with missing the children, but then quickly, at around the time when you're telling everyone how well you're doing, (go over there and click on a "A Friend in Time" and you'll see what I mean)  becomes a Personal Life Transition. With each passing day, it has less to do with the child who has left, and more to do with you, who have stayed behind watching a YouTube of Alan Jackson singing "Remember When" even though you know you  hate lack an appreciation for Country music.

Some of  us, if we're being honest, own up to the feelings of loss and disorientation that come with this transition. We see each other at the grocery store and obscure traffic by the broccoli stand talking about it.  We go out for dinner and share  sad/happy then/now stories. We post comments to each other on Facebook.  Others, the ones who are tough-loving themselves through it, consider it self-indulgent and self-fulfilling to dwell on this passage.

I say, dwell.

This is more than a passage. This is one big-ass transition.

It's not just because there are multiple parts to it (the summer-long goodbye, the shopping/packing, the remember when-ing, the wistful gazing, the clean house, the quiet TV room, the tidy bathroom) it's also because it isn't quick. For weeks after the last child leaves, there are aftershocks that can be felt, even if, by then, there is not a stray sock or empty coke can or overflowing trash basket in sight.

From what I observe, I'm about a third of the way through. I've shored up the social calendar, planned some travel, picked up my writing life, and considered where I'll put my altruistic self a few hours each week as a volunteer.

The harder part is addressing the unfamiliar feel of familiar life. You can get up at the same time, leave the house at the same time, do the same daily stuff you always do, but there is a strange, counter-intuitive feel to no longer planning your life around the habits of someone else, even if subconsciously. There is a confusing feel to parenting, too, which remains who you are, but becomes less what you do. And, while I grew used to our son's absence quickly, I am still wondering how to replace the playful spirit in the house that made me take myself a little less seriously each day. I'm still working on the unfamiliar feel of that one.

It's tempting to compare this search for new footing to walking across a frozen pond in sneakers without falling down, but even I think that's a stretch.  It's much more like  roller skating through a dark room without bumping into the furniture. Yes, that's it. That's what it's like.

I'm not quite there yet, in the new life. I'm not unhappy but I'm not serene. With complete freedom, I've become undisciplined; starting projects I don't finish, rushing to be on time for everything,  bouncing from spot to spot looking for the writing location that grounds me every day. But... if I shake my head to think of how well my day ran back when I ran a family,  it's occurred to me more than once that each of those days was framed - from beginning to end  - by the habits of others. 

When I meet them, I am positive my new habits and I will hit it off.

Alan Jackson, who
 Remembers When
So take heart, fellow Personal Life Transitioners. However you do it, whether you roll, slide, stumble or leap to the other side, you will land in a place that has been waiting for you,  is what Alan Jackson and I believe. Look what happened to Belle.

In the meantime, dwell. 

For a short time, shelve the fact that there are bigger problems than having a completely free schedule and  a child who was ambitious and lucky enough to make it into college. Appreciate that the exit of the last child has the same potential to take your life in a new direction as the arrival of the first. As therapists suggest, "embrace" the transition for the real and unique life event that it is. Find it interesting. As you would not want to be crushed by an elephant walking through the yard, you wouldn't want to run away and miss something so mighty and powerful up close either. Same thing.

Like all things, it is right now, and then it will be gone. What won't be gone, for a little while anyway, is the song "Be Our Guest" which I put in your head on purpose to make you happy.


No comments:

Post a Comment