Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thoughts from the Empty Nest (Part I)

I first became a mother in 1983.  To say that my life would never be the same after that is the understatement of all time.
1983: A baby is born.  (And so is a mother!)
In 1993, the youngest of our five sons was born.  Here is the lively crew that kept my husband and me too busy back then to fully realize that time was passing at warp speed.  In this testosterone-filled snapshot, the four oldest were 9, 8, 7, and 5, and our baby was less than a year.
1993: As people liked to point out, we now had our own basketball team.
We blinked a few times, and suddenly it was 2004.  Sons #1 and #2 were in college out at Notre Dame and their mommy mourned their absence, but was fortunately still busy enough at home that she didn't have time to wallow in self-pity (at least not constantly).  Sons #3 an #4 were still in high school, thank goodness--and my baby boy was 11 and being homeschooled.  (He went to the same Catholic grade school as his big brothers through 3rd grade before we pulled him out and started teaching him ourselves, using the Seton Home Study School curriculum.)
2004: Posing by the big red van, where our boys spent almost as much time as they did in the house!
During those speedily passing years, I was a bit in denial about the fact that when you have four babies in four years--bing, bing, bing, bing--then they tend to grow up and leave you in that same period of time--bing, bing, bing, bing.

Within three years of this awesome picture (go Sox!), sons #3 and #4 were in college and that little boy flexing his almost non-existent biceps in the middle there was just starting high school, where he would eventually grow to be 6'2", sprout some pretty ding-dang impressive muscles, and play football and lacrosse like the four role models before him had done.

We blinked again (would we never learn?), and bam!  It was 2009.

But why would we stop the clock, even if we could?  Because with the passage of time comes the opportunity for great joy--the kind of joy you can only imagine when you're a young mother: before you know it, the day comes when one of your children gets married and you realize that there is going to be a whole new branch on your family tree.  Yes, that towheaded little boy you raised is going to be the head of his own household--can this be so?

Here is one of my all-time favorite pictures of my beloved boys, taken that watershed year: son #1 is the beaming groom, son #2 is his best man, and the other three round out his side of the wedding party as his groomsmen.  (I love that they are arranged by order of birth up there at the head table!)
2009: That tiny baby in the first picture up there?  On this day, he became a husband!
Two seconds went by.  It was 2011, and our baby was leaving us to start his college career out in South Bend.
2014: That scrawny little man flexing his muscles, surrounded by his big brothers?  He's a college junior now!

So often when I read my favorite Catholic "mom blogs" and see the pictures these much-younger-than-I gals post of their precious newborns, adorable toddlers, and expanding "baby bumps," I feel almost envious of them.  Because I miss the sweet infants I rocked to sleep, the chubby toddlers I parked on my hip as I went about my daily chores, the completely lovable and deeply loved little boys who filled our days with so much energy, laughter, and pride-filled moments.  With so much purpose.  And sometimes I find myself crying--when alone in my car as I run errands, or when singing a particularly touching hymn at Mass, or just about anywhere, anytime, to tell the truth; because when the people you love most in the world--the people who gave you the one role you feel you were made to play, that of being a mother--are no longer sleeping under your roof (and not only that, but they are a full-day's drive or a plane ride away from you), I won't lie...it's hard.  And it's painful.  And it takes a lot of getting used to.

Thank God that I not only love, but really, really like, their dad (my hero, my best friend, and the love of my life, all wrapped up in a package that's easy on the eyes to boot), and that we've decided now that we're empty-nesters, we're going to consider ourselves on one long date; because otherwise, I would find the separation from our boys to be just too difficult to bear.

I've gotten comments on this blog from young mothers who say they like the way I share stories about the blessings in store for them when their children are all grown up, because they can't imagine not having them around all the time and thinking about it is scary.  But I just want to keep it real here and tell you that even though I wouldn't change a thing (because going back in time or stopping the clock would make me miss the extraordinary men my boys have become, and the special women they have married, and the beloved grandchildren with which they have blessed their dad and me), I do struggle.  You will struggle, too.

Come back tomorrow (if you want to, obviously!)--because I think this is getting a tad long, so I'm going to make it a two-parter.  I want to show you just a few of the many unimaginably wonderful joys that await you when your children grow up and spread their wings...even if that means they end up flying a little farther from the nest than you'd like them to.

It's all good, moms.  Truly it is.


  1. I have three sons and my nest is (mostly) empty. I always dreaded this season of life (and other times YEARNED for it!) but I've got to say there is something so satisfying about seeing your little boys become self-sufficient contributing members of society. My pride in them far outweighs my longing to gather all my chickees back into the same nest. One lives a long distance away and I sooooo miss having everyday interaction with him but when he's around... when they're all three together... it's just such a sweet, precious time! I used to tell first time moms that they would be shocked by how intense their love would be for their baby but it's a feeling you can't explain until you experience it. Having grown children is the same... every time they repeat a tradition from childhood or call to ask for a recipe or eagerly share old photo albums with girlfriends... my heart just bursts! *hugs* Heather

    1. A kindred soul! Oh my gosh, you described it perfectly! I sooooo wish I could have everyday interaction with my boys (I live in NH and one is in MI, two are in VA, and another is about to move to VA; the jury is still out on where the baby will end up!). But when they do all get together, or even a few of them at a time--it is just so indescribably wonderful!

      When our oldest son decided to start the tradition of pizza and Christmas crackers on Christmas Eve in his own family, just like we used to have when our boys were growing up, we were so touched! And all of them call for recipes and advice all the time. When we stay at our oldest son's house with our three granddaughters (which we just did, the week after Easter), he and his wife always wish we would stay longer, and we know they mean it. We are truly blessed--and it is satisfying to see them self-sufficient and finding their soul mates, starting families...that's how it should be--that's the whole goal of raising them. If it means we have to travel to see them, so be it. But I do live for the days when we can spend time all together. :)

  2. This was such a sweet tribute. I just have one daughter but with four kids she still calls all the time asking for recipes/advice. I love it!