Back in the toddler days, my sons’ naps rarely synchronized. But when it came to creating chaos, the dudes harmonized. They’d egg each other on, doing things like climbing open staircases outside the bannisters, unloading file cabinets, knocking over lamps. I learned I couldn’t leave them alone for a half-minute.
This meant that for years I spent all of my time loving and supervising two human monkeys. Please don’t cringe — I say “monkey” with pure affection. And accuracy. They were curious and playful rascals. I was the adoring, nervous zookeeper.
I completely understood the parental outcry for “me time,” but I rarely sought it out. When I did find myself alone, like the year they had twice-a-week three-hour preschool, I was a madwoman. Every second counted. I would run errands at top speed, wishing I had a feedbag strapped around my chin and a water-filled beer hat on my head. I did not want to waste time with the silliness of eating, drinking or stopping for bathroom breaks. I refer to that phase as The Year of the Iron Bladder.
Pathetic truth: When I was alone, I would get excited about having uninterrupted time for the mundane, like unloading the dishwasher. (My guys were known to take the lower rack out and roll it across the floor like a go-cart. Brilliant, really.) Back then, even the thrill of walking into a Home Depot solo to buy furnace filters was spine-tingling. I’m not kidding.
And here’s the strangest confession from a mother of boy toddlers born a year apart: When I had to have my wisdom teeth removed, I looked forward to the day, because anesthesia and a break from the madness was a solid promise in my schedule. That’s right, I put glitter on my calendar for oral surgery day. I had this vision of lolling around without responsibility. It would be just me, some mindless TV and dainty icepacks on my cheeks for a glorious 24 hours.
The whole thing backfired, because my “break” was just a nasty span of post-surgical nausea and vomiting. I found myself wishing to feel OK enough to maybe find a dozen unspooled rolls of toilet paper festooning the living room — with the signature M.O. of 20 chubby little fingers.
And now, here I am, a mere few weeks into the official “empty nest.” My sweet monkeys have grown into fine young college men. They are climbing their own staircases now. Am I sad? No. I’m thrilled to see my guys get their footing in the world. “Empty” isn’t the right word. I propose we call this thing a “Fulfilled Nest.”
But I admit to feeling gobsmacked. Somehow, it seems a good 15-year span of my life jumped on a 45-degree Slip ‘N Slide coated with WD-40. That chunk of time right after preschool days until now whooshed straight into a wormhole. I swear I can still smell the chlorine from my sons’ 1999 swimming lessons. And I still expect to see my guys walking to grade school, chattering with each other in the morning sun. I almost believe they will each hand me just one more Boy Scout badge to sew* onto their uniforms. (*Take to the tailor, shhh.)
Life has shifted dramatically and suddenly, but I know we’ll all adjust.
These first few weeks, my husband and I have already discovered a nugget of truth a fellow parent once told us: “Your dishwasher will be dominated by coffee mugs and wine glasses.”
Hours before writing this, I grabbed too many forks to set the table. A moment like that should have made my cry. Crazy that it didn’t. I gasped and paused, yes, but then I pictured my boys walking across their respective campuses with their smart, soulful gazes and their million-dollar grins.
Right now, I count three positives. I’m happy for my guys. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving. And Christmas.
Freelancer Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks.