empty nest is lonely

A lot of people asked me this summer: “What will you do when your daughter goes off to college this fall? All of your children will be gone.”
My answer was always, “my daughter has been preparing us for her departure since March when she began working after school. All this summer she has worked all day and been gone almost every evening. It won’t be a lot different once she goes to college.”
My son and his family came the weekend she was to finally leave for college. The dishwasher, sink and counters overflowed with dishes. The house overflowed with toys, clothes and people. Saturday and Sunday overflowed with activities as people went this way and that.
The overflow included a couple of disemboweled used computers the guys were frantically working over to ensure she had one to take to college. Early, very early Saturday morning the computer was finally fixed. Late in the afternoon we tucked it and her luggage in the car. My daughter gave me a long, tearful hug good-bye and left with her father for the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville.
The young parents gathered up their babies, bottles and toys and left me alone in a quiet house. In the silence that followed I walked through the house gathering up dirty dishes, stray towels, toys and pillows. I stacked dishes in the dishwasher, swept the floors, straightened pillows and set aside the items each had left behind. It was all clean. It has stayed that way.
On Tuesday, a friend whose last child also left for college last week said her husband looked at her one day and said “Well they are all gone now.” She said, “I was doing just fine until he said that. When he said that we looked at each and we both began crying.”
On Saturday, my husband spent the day working his way through a tedious pile of paperwork. No one interrupted a thing I did. I spent half the day preparing unnecessarily huge quantities of food for our Sunday afternoon company.
By Saturday evening I decided an empty next is downright boring. I had too much time to clean cupboards, catch up on the paperwork without anyone around to take my pen and scribble on important papers, demand equal time on the computer or leave peanut butter on the counter ad spill Kool-Aid on the floor.
At church Sunday, I heard tales of abject maternal misery as other college freshmen took off for their first semester. I said again we had been eased into the empty nest over the summer.
I was sure I was beyond the “parting is such sweet sour” stage until I sat down to write this column and caught myself fighting back tears. My stiff upper lip crumbles every time I proofread this page. I gotta maintain this professional demeanor so I’m gonna quit writing now and go have myself a good cry.
After 27 years of children our house is finally clean, quiet and very empty. I embrace the wonder of their adulthood, but I sure do miss having them around.