filling in the empty spaces

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My children’s adult lives have started for real and I have begun the long, letting go process. I have been going back-and-forth in my mind imagining who I am. Or, more specifically, whom I will be going forward. My emotions on daily basis are nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. For months after each child left, I walked around in a stupor. My heart grieved and I felt left behind.

My daughter and two sons’ wonderful future demand that my participation in their daily lives logically shrink. Less than eight months ago, I became an official “empty nester.” Although parts of me have changed over the years, my core identity has not budged in thirty years – I am a mother. My world of work and friendship is now a separate province from my three adult children. As the days and nights continue to pass, I have learned how a mother’s love never diminishes; in fact, my love for my adult children has grown. For the most part, I am accepting that I will be a welcomed visitor. Sometimes, the thought that comforts me the most is the realization that my love for each one of my children can never be taken away from me. No matter what life may bring, my feelings will live on in my heart forever and the love I have given my children will live on in their hearts even after I am no longer here.

I have always alleged that parenting is less about having happy children forever chained to me and more about preparing them to be independent, competent, enthusiastic and productive citizens of the world. Useful and grateful members of the human race, bearing witness to this awesome gift of LIFE. I did my best to nurture them to grow into meaningful adults. I should be ecstatic and giving myself a high-five, because I have been successful! I am. Sometimes. But I have also been taken aback by the sense of loss that floats in and out of my evenings after work and during the weekends. What I feared most is that their younger selves may begin to be hard to distinguish – remote even. One frightening thought I’ve had is that the woman I have been for more than thirty years will slowly cease to exist.

I have to be honest. As a single-mom, the concept of the “empty-nest syndrome,” before it actually happened to me, excited me. I reassured myself that when my children were “living on their own,” I would be reinvigorated and grateful to have time for so many interesting things life has to offer. It was my mantra. During my last year as a single mother with my youngest, you could even hear me say, “I only have one more to go.” I regret hurting my son with my words, but I am being honest here, remember? Realistically speaking though, my head and my heart have not always been on the same page with my new situation in life. My head is logically centered to solve problems and my kids live in my heart forevermore.

The first three to four months I had been moping around and digesting more carbs than I should for sure, but did not complain out loud to anyone. I am acquiring time and experiences to adjust my way through this haze of not being needed by three spectacular, animated sprouting human beings. It is impossible to escape the fact that motherhood has intertwined dependence and independence from the moment my children were taken from my womb to every milestone that has passed.

Intuitively, I have known that each successful movement forward, from sitting on the potty to hanging out at the mall to purchasing their first car, meant that my children were becoming more clever and accomplished. Consequently, it also means that I am less necessary. Despite rational intelligence that infants grow into fully-fledged adults, initially I met this new reality with far more conflict and uncertainty than I had projected. I am being changed in profound ways; I know that I am certainly not the same woman I was some twenty-nine years ago when my firstborn made me a mother.

Part of my sense of disorder has come from the loss of a protecting and guiding kind of relationship with my children, which reminds me of other losses in my life. Also, my younger self seems to be thawing and wondering if I am too old to realize certain dreams. I have made choices that are now irreversible and my own mortality is coming into closer view. Questions and reflections. Still alone, I am feeling the weight of this transition and wondering what is next? A new career? Traveling? Romance? I am back on my bike with training wheels navigating back into being single, a little overwhelmed with the unknown that is in front of me. Oh…did I mention that I was a single parent?

Thankfully, a dear friend has been schooling me on how to give up my front and center position in my children’s lives; I am learning to be quieter, to give fewer answers and to ask more questions. Life is gradually coming into a new focus. I have to remind myself that my three babies have not been taken from me nor have they abandoned me. Something I try to keep in mind is how proud I am of each one of them as I steer back into the center of my life, hopefully in ways that will make my children proud.

Filling in the spaces has been challenging and rewarding. I cannot fool myself into believing, that I don’t have the time for anything anymore. I have nothing but time. It is equally easy to do nothing all day long. For example there is no one around to question why I have been in bed all weekend. Choices. Always.

I spent Christmas without any of my children during my very first month as an empty nester. I planned a trip to New York to visit family and friends that I had not seen in 20 years. The last birdie to leave my nest moved to California on December 19th and moved in with my other son and his girlfriend. I asked my daughter and son-in-law to come, but they could not change their plans. The New Year brought in my first wave of depressive thoughts and the answer I gave myself was to sleep, eat, shower and sleep some more. Work made me go outside and leave my self-imposed dark cocoon. I actually did welcome the activity and my body appreciated the movement. This pattern would repeat like a rinse cycle every weekend for the month of January.

Come February, I made some changes like forcing myself to go to the beach…I live in Fort Lauderdale for gosh sake‘s. I accepted invitations to go to the local juice bar with a dear friend instead of not answering my cell when she called. I stepped out in my backyard in the morning before I had to leave for work – even for fifteen minutes, to readjust my attitude and help me get my perceptions right sized.

Opening my window blinds the minute after woke up in the morning and left my bed on a regular basis was one of my best decisions. No longer would I lay there, waiting for the last minute to get up, get dressed and get ready for the day’s responsibilities. It was the springboard for more self-improvement declarations. By March, I had established a brand new flow. I was crafting new goals and allowing myself to write down my dreams of traveling, becoming a published author and being open to romantic encounters. I could even have sex anytime and anywhere in my home whenever I wanted to. I could walk naked form the bathroom after a shower to my kitchen completely free.

The shift from making others happy first to making myself happy first is a brand new, exciting, positive change. I am back to paying attention to what pleases and fulfills me, not as a parent but as a person.

I believe that God is not finished with me yet; I expect that He will be transforming the lessons He welded into my being a mother into His use for my future experiences. My life story stretches far beyond my children’s lives.

April is the birth month of my middle child and May is the birth month of my oldest and my youngest. After my visit with my two sons and my daughter-in-law-to-be in mid June, I felt calmer starting this new season in my life. I have physical comfort in my own skin. Space between my ears is not filled with negative junk. My eyes are eager for all the new vistas coming my way. My mind is percolating with new ideas and my heart has come into a gentle, relaxing simpatico with my surroundings.

The empty nest does not have to leave me feeling empty. Finally, the early fears are fading away. I am on a different level with each of my three children, which is actually very agreeable to me and to them. When they FaceTime me, I get a big smile on my face and an overall wholesome feeling comes over me.

No matter the wishes or dreams in my heart, and no matter the path I have taken, the people I cherish, who add joy to my life, make all the difference in the world. I am forever grateful that Amanda-Rose, John and James are three of those people in my life.

My new mantra:

I am becoming a better, wiser, version of the woman I have always been.

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