About one year ago, my last daughter moved out on her own, leaving with the empty nest which is really a stupid term, because there are still my husband, my pets and I. It’s the altered nest, the changed nest, the lighter nest. It’s definitely not empty. Honestly, the anticipation of her leaving was worse than the actual event. Oh, I cried as I repainted her room, I grieved and after a few weeks, I was like, huh, this isn’t so awful. It’s different, quieter, cleaner, and at time starkly frightening as I was faced with all this free time that I wanted but didn’t really know what to do with once it arrived.
It’s been a year of letting go, of adjusting and of grieving. You go right ahead and grieve, just don’t get stuck there. And understand that it will ebb and flow and eventually your new life will seem more ‘normal’. The beauty of this time is that you get to go back and find yourself, pick up and start a new life. The hard part for me has been letting go and also discovering who I am when I peeled away the roles I’ve been living for so long. My caretaker role goes clear back to my youth as I lived in a very dysfunctional home. At a very young age, I was cooking, cleaning and taking care of people that were not my responsibility. So it’s been a bit of a shock, but I’m happy not taking care of much more than my pets, my home and myself.
I had the added challenge that my husband and I don’t work the same shift at times.(single parents – I feel so much for you!). My shift is steady while his swings and encompasses every other weekend. I’d never lived alone (I think everyone should live alone for a year – I’d fared much better) so being in the house alone as much as I was this past year was a struggle. First of all, I had to combat my own thinking. I’m not a loser if I’m home alone on a weekend night. I also had to embrace the fact that I’m an introvert during this year. I’ve become an ace at eating in restaurants alone and sometimes, I prefer this. Though people assume I’m not married or I have no friends or family when I do, this is certainly not true. I’m just a bit of a lone wolf and didn’t really discover how much this is true until this past year.
I’ve tried group activities and even if I had fun, I just didn’t want to go after the first meeting. I’ve tried different varieties of volunteering and settled on being a Lunch Buddy for a now sixth-grade girl at the middle school. The one-on-one interaction appeases my introverted side while the limited commitment appeased my desire to not ever be over-committed again. My personality demands flexibility and spontaneity. I’ve spent most of my life tied to commitments, schedules and so on. I will admit though, having all this free time was scary at first and there are times when I struggle with the thought that I need to do more, be more productive. When this happens, I have to really sit down and consider if I think I must do, if it really makes me happy or if it is just something I believe I need to do for whatever reason. In other words, that I don’t just stuff activities into an uncomfortable space that will eventually just make me miserable.
Having an empty nest has really opened the opportunity to learn who I am and focus on what I really want out of life. I was so used to just doing things because I was told I must, or there was some expectation of it (this was also self-inflicted), that I’ve been challenging my preconceived notions and ideas all year. This is still ongoing but when I reflect on where I stood a year ago, I’ve made some significant headway. Being authentic and being myself is a top priority for me. Though we all have to do things we don’t want to such as clean toilets, work, etc. these things have to be done or there are significant consequences that are worse than actually doing the undesirable activities.
Learning to let go has been another big lesson over the year. I still am working on this one as well, but after you’ve spent years guiding your kids, letting go especially for someone like me has been a drastic lesson in itself. But as I am getting better at not trying to control, give advice, etc. (not perfect at this in any way!), I find more and more freedom and way less worry and anxiety. My goal over the next year is learning to finally truly relax. I’m always just a little bit keyed up, partly because my brain is constantly rolling over things, many of which I have 0 control over to anyway. Ruminating over these things that are out of my control and driving my husband nuts is not beneficial. Like anything else, this is a process and slowly I’m getting better and better. I’ll never nail it perfectly but I can continue to improve. It’s hard not to worry about your kids.
Besides finding a volunteer opportunity I really love, letting go and being authentic, I started back to college utilizing my company’s reimbursement benefit. I finished my Associate’s degree in 2016. I thought I was done but I searched my heart when I found that my employer upped their benefit enough that I could actually attend online college (which is extremely expensive) and graduate in less than a billion years because I don’t want to put any money out of pocket for school. If I had some great career change I was pursuing, I would jump right in and take out loans, etc. for the higher education but since I really don’t have this, I am happy to go at a slower pace and not pay out much $$$$.
Though I will admit, I’ve freaked a bit at having to take college-level algebra after a 31-year hiatus from my last algebra class. This class is taking huge amounts of my time, so much so, that I dropped the management class that I was taking at the same time in order to stay sane. I’m just not great at algebra and had to start at the very beginning of the text book and read everything, watch every video, redo a ton of problems, take tons of notes, etc. This is extremely challenging. But while I’m not a fan of math, I am really underneath it all, good at math when it finally makes sense to me. What I do enjoy is the challenge. Being so engrossed in something, even though it’s not my fave, that time flies by. I was sitting in one of my regular haunts yesterday, eating lunch alone working on math problems in between bites. One of the co-owners asked me what I was doing and even provided me with more scratch paper when he saw I was running out.
My life had gone on automatic. I’ve worked in the same place for 21 years. I’ve been in the same position now for 13 of those years. I can do much of my job in my sleep. I’m also not great about going outside of my comfort zone. This has more to do with growing up and living a good part of my life in chaotic mess. Now that my life is really good, usually calm (outside of work), I love the peace and am afraid of bringing anything stressful into my life. But I’m bored shitless this way. Walking around in a trance is no way to live.
But guess what? Now I have all this time to focus on my own challenges and goals. Even if I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do in this chapter of my life, I can start working on whatever interests me. I get stuck on that, having this great big picture and when I don’t, I paralyze myself into inaction. The truth is, I don’t have to have it all figured out. I can pursue what I want in life and maybe it will all click together into this grand picture or maybe it never will. Either way, I’m not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. But I am also not filling my time with “should’s” and “have to’s” that aren’t truly something I need to do. I have to pay taxes but I don’t have to join a writing group just because I love writing but I don’t love groups. I can sit at home alone and watch a movie on Friday night. I don’t have to get a bunch of people together and go out.
So, thank you empty nest for allowing me the time and focus to really get back to myself and learn about myself. Hopefully, I’m becoming a better person (still working really hard on this one) and a more independent person. I was used to having one of my daughters around to hang out with but now I have to entertain myself at times. It’s forcing me out of my shell, out of my safe little world. I’ve even started attending festivals alone when no one is available. On my bucket list – go to the movies alone. Okay, for an extrovert that sounds awful but for an introvert like me, it seems almost normal.
Thank you college algebra, you’re probably going to have me in tears a few times, but I forgot how much I love a challenge. I have been avoiding things that I don’t like as if they are the plague. I think this attitude is holding me back in life. I may hate editing my own writing, but I need to if I want to publish something on a real scale. I may be afraid of the whole submission, finding an agent, etc. process but I am going to have to move forward rather than staying in my safe bubble to accomplish publication and finally see one of my books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. I have a tendency to talk myself out of hard goals or activities. No pain no gain, right? I’ve got to get my cowardly ass back out into life. I’ve spent years hiding behind my kids and my responsibilities.
I have no excuse now do I? Time to live. Thank you, Empty Nest, for ripping back the curtain of comfort that I was hiding behind. I keep trying to pull it closed so I can hide and not face hard things. I’ve stopped challenging myself outside of my comfort zone. It’s hard to go back and face the forgotten dreams, it’s easy to say, oh, I don’t really want to get my bachelor’s degree or I don’t really want to publish that book, but is it really true?
It’s taken me a year, but I finally want to step out from my comfort curtain and start living. It’s a bit scary but I feel alive. Until next time, hugs and encouragement to you!