Experiencing an empty nest

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The most frequently asked question I have received for the past two weeks is "How have you been handling an empty nest?" If you are one of my loyal readers who have faithfully been reading my commentaries for the past 11 years, you probably know my youngest son graduated from high school this past May and so it would make sense that the next transition in my life and his would involve getting him off to college this fall. That task was completed over the weekend of Aug. 9, and I'm just now coming to grips with the fact that Mike and I have definitely entered a new phase in our married life. For the first time in 20 years, it's just he and I, and our recently vacated nest seems mighty quiet. In fact, it actually seems to echo at times without all that "boy noise" that usually reverberates off our walls.

For me, it's the mornings when I first get up and the nights when I first get home from work that I feel my sons' absences the most. I have always loved waking up before my boys, making coffee and sitting in my favorite reading chair in the living room. From that vantage point, I usually had about a half an hour of silence followed by the sounds of the boys stirring as they began getting ready for the day. The sound of water running, toilets flushing, quiet banter back and forth between the two and eventually a "hi mom" from the upstairs as they finally made it down the stairs for breakfast.

In the evenings after work, I still find myself waiting to hear the sound of their cars coming up the driveway after soccer practice or school - garage doors going up, the sound of music playing and then the loud crash of the back door slamming as they tumbled into the house, making a run for the pantry or refrigerator and then yelling "what's for dinner?" These days, I even find that I miss picking up the trail of shoes, dirty socks, sports equipment and food wrappers they often left in their wake.

Some people told me sending the first child off to college was the hardest while others cautioned that the last child's leaving was the worst. For me, both goodbyes were equally difficult but for different reasons. Watching Nick head down the driveway with his car packed to the roof two Augusts ago was gutwrenching. With Nick being the first child to leave home, I found myself grappling with a bunch of unknowns. Would he make friends? Was he prepared for college coursework? Would he measure up on the soccer field? How would Ryan handle being the only child at home? Left with so many unanswered questions that could have made me crazy, I soon learned a new method of parenting, which involves letting your child go and trusting God with his future.

Ryan's departure from home was a little different than Nick's. Ryan and I travelled to Denver together in his car, giving me 12 hours of uninterrupted mother-son time. There was definitely something therapeutic and symbolic about leaving Cassville behind and heading down I-70 toward Ryan's new home in Colorado. Seeing the mountains rise up as we got closer to our destination filled me with an excitement and I know Ryan felt the same. His dreams and hopes for the future were beginning to unfold in a magnificent way. Those same mountains provide the backdrop for his dorm at Colorado Christian University. I imagine Ryan looking at those mountains in the morning when he wakes and at night before he sleeps and I feel at peace, again knowing that God is in control of my son's future.

After Nick left, it took a trip to Truman State to watch him play soccer and interact with his new team to quell some of my initial fears. Once I knew he'd found his place at Truman, I was able to handle his absence a little easier, and the same holds true for Ryan.

This weekend we flew to Denver to watch Ryan play his first two soccer games as a CCU Cougar. We arrived on campus to see Ry dressed in his uniform, now wearing #6, and ready to play. When his name was announced and he took his place at the center of the field, I felt like I would burst as my throat tightened and my eyes filled with tears. And when the whistle blew and I saw him sprinting up and down the field with his usual energy and fire, I knew without a single doubt that Ryan was right where God intended for him to be - on the soccer pitch at a Christian college whose scoreboard bears the inscription "Audience of One." And for those who know Ryan well, it will come as no surprise that he had no trouble holding his own in a college game and already had his own cheering section rooting him on from the sidelines. When it came time to say our goodbyes to Ryan, I left my son with my heart a whole lot lighter, just like I did when I waved goodbye to Nick two years ago.

Ryan has found a new home, a place where he is free to explore his gifts and abilities, a place where his faith will be challenged and strengthened, a place where he will prepare to fulfill his dreams of becoming a youth minister. I know Ryan is exactly where God wants him to be, and as a parent, what more can you want or need. Mike and I also must hold tight to the rock solid knowledge that we did what we needed to do as parents. We prepared our children to leave the nest and now they're soaring on their own.