I was once terrified of this stage of life, fearful that without multiple voices at the dinner table, or when there were no more ball games to attend, (the staple of our non-church social life), life would be so radically different that I would feel lost in my own skin. Well, NOT SO!!!
There was a transition period, of course, like the day we arrived home after dropping our last child off at college. We were driving into town and I realized that after a week's absence from home, we'd need a few groceries. I remember looking at my husband and timidly asking, What do I buy? Two peaches? One quart of milk? It was an astounding change considering the fact that in actuality, sending the last child off didn't mean one less mouth to feed. It meant the sudden departure of his entire posse of muddy-cleated, sweaty-uniformed, two-extra-gallons-of-milk-a-week-drinking Little Debbie Eaters. What was I to do?
I was a little lost for a time. Holidays home were my heaven, and I died again when the planes departed, but eventually I could watch my Lewis tribe return to their collegiate and married worlds without tears, and then my wise husband explained this new stage of life to me.
"It's our house now! We can do whatever we want!"
It was a daring thought! I considered the ramifications of such a wild and crazy notion, and then giggled, "Cool!" Now, what to do with all this freedom? Well, I could draft a long list, but let me share just a few tidbits from my new Empty Nesters Wisdom.
First, somedays there is a little extra time and freedom, and some days there is not. Why? A variety of reasons come to mind. For example, your parenting style is not likely to change, you just need more gas to hover your invisible helicopter over your children's new airspace. Are you a note-in-the-lunchbox mom? Then buy stock in the US Postal service, because you will likely feel compelled to attach that little sticky note to a thirty-two pound collection of non-perishable items intended to keep your Ramen Noodle-eating child from suffering malnourishment. (Don't laugh . . . prepare. You'll thank me later.)
But time is more flexible now, and there is freedom in that.
The most wonderful aspect of this new stage of life is that there is time for exponential growth. Like an unlimited enrollment at Life University where you get to explore and learn new things while living with the room mate you know really, really well, these years are delicious. In fact, I've come to think of them as dessert--a time when all the sous-chefs in your life have contributed to helping you prep for the great learning smorgasbord, and now it's time to indulge yourself and everyone in your circle into the richness of what you have become and what you will do with what you have become. (My editor is cringing over that last elongated thought.)
I want to be a more active voice in shaping the world now.
I'll bravely admit something. I'm generally a people pleaser. It's an unflattering characterization, I know, but I generally like to make nice. This was not necessarily so in my youth. In fact, I was somewhat of a political activist--sitting on committees to argue policies and define students' rights and responsibilities--but after marriage and children, something switched inside. Other people's needs came first and despite my internal passion about the world, in the minutia of life, my non-parental voice stilled somewhat. (Notice the honest admission that only the non-parental voice stilled somewhat. After all, my children may read this.) Anyway, I became more involved in facilitating the expression of others' opinions than my own.
I had heard quiet rumors of the tongue-loosening that occurs after forty. Alluded to in Relief Society, where the sisters of the the LDS church meet to teach and edify one another, this rumored fourth decade burst-of-courage-to-boldly-fight-for-truth-and-righteousness gave me reason to look forward to the big 4-0, and biological fact or not, I did find a new inclination to speak my mind. Perhaps it was, in part, because my astute children's own minds were awakening to the complexities of the world that was bearing down upon them that I began not just fussing over issues but writing to my representatives and calling their offices. The aperture opened a little wider as I hit the fifty year marker, and now, I not only have more life experience, I have the time and freedom to do something with it. (See? There was a point to all this rambling.)
Perhaps this fourth-quarter reawakened-desire to change the world is universal to men and women. I've really fallen in love with President Washington in the past two years. Flawed? Human? Of course, but judging the man within the context of his own time, he was, without question, both brilliant and inspired. I love to read his Farewell Address and I recommend that every American do, (Washington's Farewell Address) for in reading it, one is awed by how desperately he loved this land and us, the generations that would follow after him. So much so that even in the last days of his public life, after suffering physically and emotionally over this infant nation thoughout his life, and when he desperately longed for nothing more than a short season of quiet peace, he could not walk away silently. Like a waning father . . . like a great patriarch offering his final words of wisdom, he spelled out three concluding warnings to his future American children.
One- He called on Americans to be unified, warning that factionalism would occur in our nation if political parties were allowed to polarize the people. (Hmmm. . . .)
Two- He warned against making alliances with foreign powers, and
Three- He cautioned his fellow Americans about the indispensable values taught through religion and morality. On this topic he said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness -- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."
There was no resting on his laurels. If anything, it was among his most profound moments.
So, to all you Empty Nesters, and to those who worry about those approaching years. . . Don't! See them as the great harvest of all the experiences you've had to date, and then use them to do something grand. It's in us. Just like our predecessors . . . it's in each of us.