You have babies. You nurse them, change their diapers, feed them, rock them and watch them sleep in their cribs. When they get a little older they cling and scream and cry and laugh, when they are a little older than that you wish they wouldn’t cling quite so much or scream quite so loud. But then they get a little older than that and they can’t wait to get away from you. And then it’s just a hop, skip and a jump and suddenly all those years are gone and those babies are grown and gone and you have an empty nest.
You wish for the screaming and the clinging and the laughing. You want it all back, but it’s gone.
I have three children. My oldest is 25. He lives in another state. He is self-employed and is out leading his own life. My middle son is 23. He lives in another country. He is in the military and is married with a baby on the way. My first grandchild. My daugther is 21. She lives close by with her boyfriend. She is employed at a full-time job and on the side has an Etsy business and is a wedding photographer on the weekends. My daughter lived with her dad for a time, then came to live with my husband and I during her senior year. She moved out quite quickly after graduating because all my kids wanted to get out on their own. I knew they did, because that is how I raised them.
And so, when I was 44 years old, I found myself with an empty nest. At first it was nice. It was quiet, I could travel when I wanted, I could watch whatever I wanted on the television and I didn’t hear Call of Duty in the other room. Doors didn’t slam when teens were mad. My kitchen was industrially clean.
It was blissful … for a while. And then I found myself wondering where the time went.
What happened to the high chairs? The diapers? The cartoons? The driving lessons, ballet lessons, piano lessons? Where are the car seats? When did those little kids strapped into those car seats and booster chairs grow up? When did they stop asking questions?
“Mommy, what’s that?”
“That’s a backhoe, sweetie.”
“Mommy, what’s a backhoe?”
When did that stop? And how did I miss it? When did they stop crawling in my lap and cuddling? When did we stop spending our summers at the swimming pool? Why didn’t I take more pictures when we were out camping on the weekends?
It was the blink of an eye, folks. I blinked and they were gone. All those times, all the sniffles, all the giggles. Those kids grew up and now they are out in the world and soon they will be raising their own kids.
I have found that having an empty nest is hard. It might be harder than having kids. I miss them, those little babies that clung. Oh sweet mercy, I miss them so much.
I am lucky though, because I was able to have them and I still have all three of them. I have friends that are not so lucky.
If I could go back and do it all again, I would cherish every single solitary second. I wouldn’t waste a single, little moment. I wouldn’t wish away an illness or an argument or a spilled dinner or a slammed door. And I would be sure to remember every hug, every giggle, every silly story, every question, every kiss and every single time they said “I love you, mommy.”
I realize than that we never have children, we receive them. And sometimes it’s not for quite as long as we would have expected or hoped. But it is still far better than never having had those children at all.
~ from the novel My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult