September 2, 2021

This week I become an empty nester.

For most of my couples, this part of life is so far away it barely exists. I know I couldn’t have begun to fathom an empty nest when I was a young married person in my twenties. And when my mother-in-law would speak wistfully about the way the light would sometimes fall in the afternoon, taking her back to early days in her own marriage, I listened but could not understand. Now I do.

Our son sat with us at the dinner table last night, and spoke of this week, as well. He’s a tender soul and, no surprise to us, he understands his exit is a little different than his sister’s a few years ago. We talked about favorite meals scheduled this week, what had to be packed, quick errands to be run, a COVID test to be taken, and documents still needing attention.

He also spoke of our pets, both of whom we lost earlier this year, saying, “You really will be empty nesters! And we’ll never have a family pet again.” Oof. It’s true, though. Any pet we adopt will be Joe’s and mine . . . not the family’s. That wistfulness – that achy nostalgia – my mother-in-law felt was now mine to feel.

It’s not that Joe and I are worried about being empty nesters together. We’re actually a bit excited. We like each other. We love each other. We talk about our plans as empty nesters, the new dreams we are dreaming, and the new goals we have. We play “I wonder . . .” and “What if we . . .” a lot on weekend mornings.

But the reality of time plays into our plans. These are not the plans of twenty-somethings, when our dreams of doing things together was truly about the two of us. When time stretch endlessly in front of us. These are the dreams of fifty-somethings when, sure, we are two again. But not really. Because we’ll never be just two again. We’ll always and forever be four – a family we dreamed, then created, cultivated, and nurtured.

We worked hard on family, one of us an only child and the other from disfunction. We knew what we wanted for our family, for our children, and deliberately set ourselves to the task. We feel like we nailed it. (Our kids might roll their eyes and suggest otherwise, but they’d do so together, which would undermine their eye rolls and confirm our success.) But, wow. Here we are, goals achieved, levels unlocked. And the afternoon light is falling through the windows into a quiet house.

I often speak of marriage being a series of smaller marriages. And that is the truth of this week. One marriage is ending and another one is beginning for us. And change is hard. The world is in such a state, and time moves only in one direction. So, we’ll drive our son to the airport later this week and hold hands while we watch him fly into his wide-open future. And then we’ll turn, look at each other, and walk out of that airport into ours.

Wish us luck.