The Empty Nest Isn’t Empty

Sometimes I catch myself making plans for my small children, and then I remember that they are not small anymore.  My time has passed and I don’t get another chance. 

Just like tonight, I was reading a book and they had stuffed all the Christmas gifts into pillowcases.  The image in my mind was pleasant, those white cotton bags bulging with gifts.  Like a gift within a gift.  And I thought – oh what a great idea.  We will have to do that next year.  Then it hit me that there won’t be a next year.  Not next year or ever a year again.  My little children will never come around that hallway wall with their eyes all wide with anticipation of what Santa had brought them again. 

I guess that’s why people look forward to being grandparents.  They see all the mistakes they made, all the traditions they didn’t think of till too late, all the opportunities that they were too tired or drained of energy to take advantage of, and now they have this second chance.  The chance to do it “right.”  Better. 

Life is full of mistakes, and I realize I have made a few.  But I don’t have regrets, because I know that I did the best I could with the life I had been given with my children.  And mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow.  That being said, sometimes I get a little sad that those joyful days are over.  I mean, let’s face it, raising kids is hard work, full of responsibility and fear of failure, but kids are so full of joy and love of life that it is a bit contagious.  When you aren’t feeling fulfilled by your own life, most times, you don’t even know it, because you are too wrapped up in your kids’ lives to feel it. 

As the wings were spread and my little birds flew off leaving a quickly cooling warm spot in their place in our nest, I felt that joy cooling and dulling along with it.  When my daughter went away to college, I felt as if my heart had been ripped out.  The house was so quiet without her joyfulness and her joyful friends with their hope and anticipation of every small event and the great future ahead of them.  My oldest son chose to gather with friends at their house, and he took his joy with him.  I watched my youngest son, still a distance from the edge of the nest, and realize now that I smoothed his feathers and coaxed him back every chance I got.  Finally, I realized it wasn’t fair to hold him and his joy hostage.  It was time to find my own. 

I was seduced for a while by step grandchildren.  But their physical distance from us, and their busy lives full of blood grandparents, aunts and uncles, and every other weekend with their “real” dad, forced me to see the fantasy that I had built around them.  Every time I tried to resurrect the joy of motherhood through them, the mirage was revealed.  They were not my children.  And all the things my children and I used to do were not familiar or held with fondness in their hearts. 

I was forced to stand in front of the mirror and see that I was going to have to get my own joy.  There would be no mooching off of others or living vicariously through them. 

There’s that old saying – “Get a life!” And it was more than appropriate for me.  And quite honestly, I have to say that I am blessed to not have to raise a grandchild or have a houseful of secondhand parenting to do.  It would be too easy to get lost in it, and I would be living in a reality that was not real, losing myself in the purpose of others – again. 

I hope to have a lot more of life to live ahead of me.  I’m happy for this awareness, so that I can reach inside and find the joy that I never thought was as joyful as what I felt coming from others.  Like a lot of other factors in my life, I just haven’t given it enough credit.  Everyone else’s just looked better.  So I’m setting out to stop looking in the window of the Jones children or their grandchildren, and I am finding a new way to find joy – the joy of being creative.  Maybe I’ll write a story about all the things I wish I would have done with my children.  Or maybe I’ll sew a quilt to give the child in me.  I feel the joy glowing inside me just thinking about it!   

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