I watched the young mother load up her car. First the kids, one in a baby seat, followed by two whingeing toddlers into their respective straitjackets. Then the gear: a stroller for two, a diaper bag, and finally, some packages. She looked over at me long enough to give me a piteous sigh, and then got in herself, off to her next errand, a playdate, or the pediatrician’s office. I sighed in return. I remember those days of exhaustion, frustration, and challenge.
When I was young, I thought that life would stay the way it was forever. My children seemed as if they would never mature. My housework never seemed to get done. Scrambling around from one activity to another took inordinate amounts of time that I couldn’t devote to more important things like thinking, noticing what season it was, fantasizing about sex, or combing my hair.
There was a frantic quality to life as a young parent. Experts advised all kinds of activities to enhance the mental acuity and physical prowess of children. It wasn’t enough to just squire them around to pre-school, give them nutritious food and daily baths. It was also recommended that parents PLAY with their children, encourage them to help with meal preparation (kids? With flour and moistening ingredients? Are you KIDDING?), engage them in artistic projects, and tussle with them in the grass. My husband and I dutifully followed the experts, and as a result, we were very tired, very often.
As our kids grew, the sophistication of their activities grew with them. Now there were debates, horse shows, dances that required chaperones, and lots and lots of homework that necessitated proofreading. I became very good at sizing up boys by the hang of their trousers and the subject matter of their tattoos. Driving lessons replaced nature walks, and curfews had to be enforced. Still tired, my husband and I gamely attended soccer matches, listened to rock music, and became familiar with instant messaging, Ipods, and the beginnings of the world of computer games.
We thought that life as parents would always require the same amount of caloric output as it did when our kids were developing. We assumed that the frenetic pace would continue, and that somehow we would need infinite strength and resolve.
But as suddenly as it all began, it ended. The kids left for college, and the world changed. There were books again. Meals could be enjoyed slowly, and no one had to jump from the table, race to the car and go somewhere. There were no shoes, schoolbooks, or sporting equipment left on the floor of the kitchen. My God, the phone didn’t ring any more! My husband looked at me, and I looked at him, and we SMILED.
Life in an empty nest is so enjoyable! We watch public television, and there is classical music in the air. I can take a nap if I want to! There are days when I actually GET BORED. I have all the time in the world to contemplate my navel. The people at the library know me by my first name! I wear pajamas all day on days when I am not even slightly sick. I can think about politics and ponder the impact of the newly passed healthcare bill. Freedom isn’t just another word!
To all the young parents out there, coaching T-ball, baking cookies, housebreaking puppies, cleaning up fingerpaints, and wiping noses, I have soothing words for you:
ALL CHILDREN LEAVE HOME.