It has been sixteen years (oh my gosh, I hate to admit how much time has elapsed) since our last child launched his college career. I’ve been having flashbacks, hearing stories from friends whose nests are about to empty as their children embark on their own college adventures.
As many of you are packing to drop your kids at the dorms this fall, I think back to my time as a new empty nester and the moths that followed. Below is a blog I wrote after our college drop-off experience:
My husband and I had deposited my youngest son on the doorstep of George Washington University mid-August of 2001. We were empty nested for the first time in eleven years of our marriage (a second marriage, needless to say).
My daughter was in her third year of college in North Carolina. We like to say we were empty nested for less than an hour when my daughter called to say, “I’m coming home, Mom, I’ve decided to drop out of school. This way you won’t have to worry about having an empty nest.”
This conversation occurred as we were driving back to our Florida home. All I could say was, “Let me call you back, honey.”
We pulled over at a rest stop and I bought a pack of cigarettes.
As it turned out, my daughter was suffering from a love affair gone bad. Her panic about her future, and our collective panic over the Al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11 made for a stressful fall that year.
In the midst of this upheaval, my son, newly ensconced in his freshman dorm in DC, was kicked out of school on the first day of classes for smoking pot. In spite of appeals, he was sent home for three semesters.
During the fall of 2001, as I was spending time in bed with the covers pulled over my head, I worked with a group of friends to create a pilot program we later called the Jeremiah Project. I needed a survival kit — a project to distract my mind — as was the case with many of my boomer friends.
The Jeremiah Project is an after school and summertime creative arts program targeted to reach under-served middle school-aged kids. I realized I needed something positive to focus on in the midst of an extremely negative and fearful time. I was a potter and I loved the idea of introducing kids to clay.
While it would appear we were helping the kids, they were really the ones healing us.
Now back to 2017:
I don’t know how helpful this story is to those of you perusing the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond for twin XL bed sheets, Tide-To-Go sticks, and closet organizers…. But I’m here to tell you my kids managed, and somehow, so did we.
My daughter not only finished her undergraduate education but went on to receive a Masters in Fine Arts. My son now has a Ph.D., as does his wife, and is the fabulous father of two children.
I guess my strategy for coping with family/national crises and ENS (Empty Nest Syndrome) was to focus upon something bigger than my immediate world.
Maybe identify something that pleases one of your passions — pet rescue, sewing/knitting for a cause, art, or nature — and make it your own. Consider starting your own non-profit or something entrepreneurial. Find a way to mentally escape while giving back — whether you be giving back to your community or to your own sanity! Whatever you decide, it will certainly be better than watching Antiques Roadshow with the covers pulled over your head. Take it from me!
Liz Kitchens is a writer and blogger. Her blog, Be Brave. Lose the Beige, reaches out to Lady Boomers, women of the Baby Boomer generation. Liz also blogs for Growing Bolder and Vibrant Nation, two sites devoted to aging issues. Liz conducts workshops on the health benefits of creativity and is an ambassador for the Creative Caregiving Initiative sponsored by the NCCA, The National Center for Creative Aging. Liz founded the Jeremiah Project, an after school and summer creative arts program designed to foster self esteem and encourage creative thinking among at risk middle school aged students.