Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Ever-Encroaching Empty Nester Syndrome

I was asked just yesterday by my cousin how I was handling my baby graduating from school in June and all the kids being far enough away to not having someone pop in every day.  A year ago I would have immediately responded with tears and a "I cant talk about"; however, yesterday was different.  I paused.  I had such mixed feelings.  I still have some of the emotion there, but there is also an excitment and heaven forbid I should communicate that to anyone! 

I read the Daily Mail online daily and came across this great article in the Femail section.  Nicci Gerrard, a bestselling British author, at the same point in life as I am now, summed it all up perfectly.  Why try to rewrite the already well-written!  Thanks Nicci!

Bestselling author Nicci Gerrard, 51, lives in Suffolk with her husband and co-writer Sean French. She has four children, Edgar, 22, Anna, 21, Hadley, 18, and Molly, 16.

Nicci Gerrard found it difficult to cope when her children left home.
Sometimes, in a shop or on the street, I hear a child's voice piping up 'Mummy!' and I turn around with a lurch of the heart, thinking they are calling out for me.   But, of course, they aren't. I'm 51 - and that time has gone.

Ten years ago, at the start of the new millennium, I worked full-time on a newspaper, wrote novels with my husband and had four children aged between six and 12 for whom I tried (and failed) to be the perfect mother - juggling work assignments, writing stories in the early hours, racing home to attend parents' evenings, school concerts, doctor's appointments, end-of-term assemblies.

It was a time of constant exhaustion (I used to fall asleep in the bath, while being driven in the car, on the train, in the theatre, at meals); a time of guilt (baking cakes in the middle of the night to prove I was a 'proper' mother, weeping over my children's milestones that I'd missed); of intense physical closeness (the sticky hand clutching mine, the hot body wedged between ours in bed, squabbling round the dinner table, squashing into the car); of grumpiness, anxiety.

And vivid happiness. I would often long for time to myself, be it mornings in bed or baths without someone hammering at the door - but I wouldn't have traded a single second of those breathless days of mayhem and the rowdy, botched imperative of love.

Now three of my four children are at university. One by one, the eldest have gone, leaving behind empty bedrooms, unaccustomed tidiness and a strange silence.   Yes, they return with bags of laundry, but it's not the same - and it hits me hard.

Soon, the youngest will also be gone. A few weeks ago, she said cheerily: 'How will you feel when there's no one left to wave goodbye in the morning?'   And as if someone had pressed a button, I started to weep, ridiculous snorting sobs that I couldn't control.

It's not just about missing them - which, of course, I do - but the realization that a certain part of my life is over and can never come again.   Their childhood is finished: Was it good enough? Did I do OK? Who am I now? What am I for?

Enough. I would hate to be one of those guilt-inducing wistful mothers waiting for their children's visits.

So here's my pledge for the next decade: I'm going to turn my loss (of children, teeth, youth and prospects) into my gain.   I'm going to have adventures, set myself challenges, learn languages, grow chillies, live abroad - do all the things I haven't had time for.

I'm going to turn an ending into a beginning.


Peter said...

Thanks for the blog post. I too read the piece by Nicci Gerrard, and although being a dad rather than a mum, it resonated with me. Those days seem to have gone so fast, my two kids are now at Uni and some days, the house is SOOOO quiet! Funny, they have come back for Christmas and now I am longing for a bit of that quiet … ha ha. What struck me, and I suppose challenged me was the lines, “I am going to have adventures … I am going to turn an ending into a beginning.” I don't know about growing chillies, but living abroad sounds like an adventure!

The Giles said...

I too honed in on the new beginings; however growing chillies does sound good, especially if its in a nice warm country! Dont know if I can live abroad, but we certainly will be traveling more! First stop the UK in September!