Inside: Adjusting to the empty nest is hard, and it takes a while to figure this stuff out. But every day I learn to be thankful for unexpected things.
I drop my grocery bags on the kitchen counter with a thud as I fumble in the dark for the light switch.
Surprised by the shiny kitchen sink, I wonder if I am in the wrong house.
Then, as I run my fingers over the cool marble, untouched by empty glasses, backpacks, and peanut butter smears, I realize I am indeed home.
Miraculously, the kitchen is exactly as I’d left it this morning.
No, this is not a dream. It’s the reality of my new normal – the empty nest.
My career as a full-time mom began over 21 years ago – a long span by any standards. We just dropped off our youngest at college this fall. New changes are hard, but every day I learn new amazing reasons to be thankful for the empty nest.
1. Peaceful Mornings
No running around making lunches, looking for textbooks, rebooting the laundry or trying to figure out who is driving carpool. Just me, my coffee, my dog and peace and quiet.
2. Easy Dinners
I no longer have to cook for a crowd every night. Because I don’t always have to serve a healthy meal with lots of veggies and salads, I can eat a bowl of Cheerios in front of the nightly news if I want. Or order in a pizza, share a bottle of wine and discuss current events like the grownups that we are.
3. Relaxing the Rules
I don’t have to set a good example all the time. Being a daily role model to teenagers who already know everything can be exhausting. Go ahead; enjoy a second glass of wine. Eat a pint of Cherry Garcia for dinner. It’s OK –no one’s watching you.
You can travel to grown-up places. No more theme parks, long ride lines or furry characters.
You can go wherever you want and not argue about how boring the museum is. You can pick a restaurant and not think about who is vegan this week or who only wants protein because they’re trying to bulk up for sports.
Restaurants where you can linger over coffee and dessert, without being rushed by kids who want to get back to the hotel wifi.
5. Spend Less on Groceries
No need to stock up on the large economy size bags at the Costco.
Even better – use that extra grocery money to buy the really good stuff: fresh seafood, farmer’s market fruit, interesting cheeses from foreign places. Stuff you always wanted to buy but didn’t.
6. Free Time on Weekends
I don’t rise at dawn for long-distance, all-day sports tournaments in the freezing rain or sweltering heat. Hey, if it looks nasty outside, I can burrow down under the covers and read my new book for an extra hour.
Do the crossword, wander around your local farmers market – it’s up to you.
7. Clutter-Free Calendar
I only have to keep track of my own schedule. No sports sessions, tutoring, music lessons, debate practices. No more chauffeuring, chaperoning or volunteering at school. My time is mine and mine alone. If I want to spend all day in my backyard gardening, it’s all good.
8. More Hours in the Empty Nest Day
My day no longer ends when the school bell rings.
I can schedule appointments, a day trip into the city, and otherwise occupy myself without planning to be back by 3:00. I never have to cancel a hair appointment I’ve been waiting four months for because my son thinks he has strep throat.
9. More Sleep
I go to bed when I want to.
No more waiting up to see if the youngest got home. No listening for the key in the lock at 1:00 in the morning. No panic when I realize it’s two hours past curfew and she’s still not home. I go to sleep and stay asleep.
10. Quality time with your Kids
Sometimes it takes a bit of distance for your kids to appreciate how much you did for them, how much they love you and that they didn’t have it so bad at home all these years.
The first trip home is a lot like a honeymoon. Love is in the air and everyone is so happy to see each other. The convenient thing is by the time the honeymoon feeling wears off; it’s about time for them to head back to school for the next semester.
Which leads me back to the shock of my clean kitchen.
My Favorite Empty Nest Feature: A Clean House
My house stays as I left it.
No mystery dishes in the kitchen sink when I wake up. No towels on the floor. No pile of backpacks, papers and snacks on the kitchen counter when I get home from a long day.
So while this adjustment is hard, and it takes a while to figure this stuff out, every day I learn to be thankful for these unexpected things.
Like my shiny sink.
What’s something you didn’t expect to love about the empty nest?