Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

The empty nest


September 14, 2018

Eighteen and a half years ago, when our third and last child was born, I remember thinking, “I’m going to be 62 when he goes to college. That’s so old!” Now that time has come, as has Rosh Hashanah, a new year, a pause, a moment to look back and evaluate who we are and where we’ve been. Our youngest child has left the nest for college, and we new empty nesters are moving into the inevitable next phase of life, not the last phase but a very different one, an older one, one that has long been expected and in many ways, dreaded. Nearly three decades of child rearing have come to an end. And I, for one, am sad to see them go.

Now for all those out there who are itching to say, “Wait a minute. Being an empty nester is great! You’ll adjust. It gets better and better,” I’m asking you to swallow your placating, soothing remarks. They won’t work. I’ve loved having our youngest around. The house feels big and empty without his up and down the stairs, his trumpet, his laughter shared with friends, and while I know there’s no way around this hole, I’m allowing myself the time to mourn and look back on what has been the greatest adventure of my life: parenting. And our baby is off on a great adventure of his own: four years at a great university in a great college town.

I have no real concerns for him other than the standard “away from home for the first time.” He’s like many a special child: bright, mature, centered, and for those of you who know him, you know I speak the truth. My concerns, shallowly and selfishly, are for myself. I am in the position many housewives have found themselves in over the years—raising the kids and then suddenly finding that responsibility, that purpose, gone. I work out of our house, and my wife (who works full time in an office) has wondered if I’m semi-retired (to which I’ve said no). I have been the point person for our kids. I’ve made the lunches, scheduled the doctor appointments, and made sure life proceeded as it should. That is past, and a future with more free time, less kid management, looms ahead.

I’m pretty good at filling that time with personal interests—writing, music, working out, but nothing, I’ve realized, is as satisfying as a smile from my boy. And what I’ve also realized is this: life isn’t a circle. There’s nothing neat and tidy about it, with the ends meeting and completing in a perfect shiny gold ring. If anything, life is more like a double helix, a twisting ladder spiraling upward as it narrows and expands, changing and forcing us to deal more with goodbyes than hellos, more with letting go than holding onto, more with coming to grips with the hard fact that the more we love the more we undoubtedly hurt. And that’s the rub.

We’re born crying and isolated into a strange world, separated from a mother’s heartbeat, trying to figure out how to manage this solitary shell, and if we’re lucky we find ourselves in a nurturing family surrounded by love. And our world expands. But one by one we leave and are alone and on our own until we find someone to share our lives. We grow our own family, increasing in numbers and love, until our children take flight and we are reduced once again. If we’re lucky there will be other phases—grandchildren, second careers, a child who moves nearby. And maybe we even start to enjoy that empty nest. And maybe we don’t. I think most of us never completely do.

He’s only called home once (at our insistence) and that’s a good sign. And he’s already making friends, learning the town, settling into classes, a new life, a new sense of excitement and discovery. And I am looking ahead to a new year, trying to figure out what comes next even as I realize I can’t possibly know or predict what that will be. And that, my friends, is really what life is all about, isn’t it? Not beginnings or endings but changes. Not the tidy package we’re told about, but a messy, sloppy pile of heartbreak and love, inextricably linked, inexplicably thrown our way one day and taken away the next. It’s about what we feel, how we heal, and how we deal with and reconcile ourselves to that next surprising phase.

May the coming New Year be one of deep feeling, healing, and above all, love in all its mysterious forms for you and your ever expanding, ever contracting world.

And that’s the good word. 

Feel free to pass your thoughts and comments on to the Heritage or email me at dsb328@gmail.com.


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