empty nest…college, the first stage

empty nest

This morning before dawn broke, we became first stage empty nesters as my husband left to drive our son to school. The car was so packed, there wasn’t room for anyone to change their mind, let alone room for me.

It seems like yesterday he was 10 and we were meeting for the first time at a First Friday Main Line long, long ago. I bought him a hot chocolate at MilkBoy Coffee when it was in Ardmore, and I was smitten.

We are a blended family, and I was never able to have children of my own, so my stepson is it for me. I like to say in some ways, we have grown up together, and now I get to begin that parental process of learning to let go and watching him spread his wings and learn to fly as the transition from teenager to adult really begins.

Damn this is hard. This morning as I stood in the rain in the doorway watching the rear lights of the car get smaller and smaller, I was a kaleidoscope of memories and emotions.  All of the years so far twirled and swirled before me in my mind’s eye.

Yes I cried when I hugged him good-bye.  I swore for days before that I wouldn’t. But I did.  And I had a good cry when they were gone when I walked past his open bedroom door.  The room was still and quiet.  And he had made his bed for me.  Yup. Puddle. Tears. This adulting stuff, oy vey.

We are so proud of him.  He did extraordinarily well in high school and has a very bright future ahead of him.  This is part of the natural progression of life, but damn don’t try it without Kleenex.

Another thing that gave me pause today is that I was experiencing something today like a regular parent, not just as a step-parent.  This new journey beginning today is something he, his father, and I share together like the family we have become.


As today is the check-in and freshman orientation for college, I call it the first stage of becoming an empty nester.  He will be home for break and vacations and occasional weekends, but he will never truly be here full time 100% of the time ever again.

He’s growing up (and yes he has been doing the growing up thing for a while – don’t mind me I am just enjoying parental denial.)  And some day, he will be having a day like this with his own children.

I am not old enough I said to myself this morning. I remember when I left for college.  I was excited and terrified all at the same time.  Now it’s his turn.

So what did I do this morning after I had my parental meltdown because the kid left for college? Well I cleaned and rearranged my spice rack. I oiled the cabinets and some pieces of furniture. It’s like I have an unnatural need to stay busy today.

Now I am sitting here writing this and listening to really early Madonna.  I never listen to Madonna.  Or I should say, I haven’t since I was about 21.  Holiday. Borderline. Material Girl. Lucky Star.

An hour or so ago I got a photo of the dorm room. That takes me back.  I remember that. Unpacking. Arranging my room.  But time flies.  37 years ago I was a just 17 year old freshman.  Seems inconceivable. I had a bright green bedspread.  My mother insisted.  I did not do that to him.

Now it’s his turn. He seems to like his roommate and survived his first freshman orientation gathering.  I remember I liked some of the freshman orientation activities, and felt like an alien at some of the others.

I have a feeling I will be cooking and gardening like crazy for just a little while.

I just got a text.  A photo of his first student i.d. He looks older already….sigh…

Have a great Sunday everyone.  Thanks for stopping by.




april fools’


April Fools’ on me is it is so nice outside and I am still recovering from recent surgery. So I have been restoring a quilt and reading. I hate to say I am tired, but wow I am tired.

Reading is a delightful luxury. Novels, back issues of The New Yorker (which I apparently first picked up as a small child for the cartoons according to my parents), and a newspaper column I have read some of online from Maine I find fascinating because I think parts of it would make great skits for Saturday Night Live….or a series of New Yorker cartoons.

I have a bunch of friends who are a combination of native New Englanders and transplants. A few are in Maine. So the “Mainers” talk about a columnist in The Portland Daily Sun named Natalie Ladd. Not because her writing is so fabulous but because ( and I marvel at this) that she has apparently turned being a master kvetcher into a column. It’s like if Erma Bombeck was a whiner, and was kind of sort of humor-free.

Part of me marvels at that because in my Walter Mitty dreams a newspaper or magazine offers me a column some day because they love my writing style. It’s not that far-fetched because when I first began my transition out to Chester County, for a while I was writing online articles for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s now defunct online Neighbors blog. It was so fun and I loved it. I would pick my topics and pitch them. And of course my other dream is to have a one woman photography show in some super cool Chester County gallery.

So I think “maybe some day” and keep honing my crafts.

But I marvel at this Natalie Ladd. She has made herself a career of sorts via her column which seems to basically journal her midlife crisis meets empty nester. There she is in her “headshot” for the paper a woman of a certain age and definitely older than I. She has the worst glasses seen since Sally Jesse Rafael left television. And she is clutching a baby bottle in one hand and a mortar board in the other. You are almost embarrassed for her until you read a few of her columns and then it hits you: she’s the woman you avoid in the grocery store.

Because blogging is a personal writing journey, I hope I never morph into the woman who can’t deal with the empty nest (or anything else) like I see in these columns.

I could see being a columnist and writing a few columns about being an empty nester, but not making it as a variation on the theme of your personal aging and your main kvetch.

I asked some friends who are almost and total “empty nesters” what it is like. My one friend loves it until the dirty laundry mountain comes home to visit …..and she has quality time with piles of dirty clothes and not the kids. Another friend said it was hard at first but then you have to view it as an accomplishment because you have raised these amazing human beings who are your children to be fine individuals in their own right and this is the natural progression.

I never asked my mother how she felt. My parents just seemed to go about their lives and my sister and I developed our adult lives. I wonder how I will be when my stepson hits the road for college. I think that I know I will miss him because he is a very cool kid and I love him, but the reality is I want him to spread his wings and explore the world. It will be his time.

So this to me, after reading this woman’s columns (not all, because I just don’t have the stamina or interest) this stems from not necessarily just the proverbial empty nest, but the fact that she is not one with aging.

Maybe I look at life overly simplistically in some regards now. I look in the mirror and yes, basically a 50 year old woman stares back at me and some days I am literally thinking “when did 50 happen?”

But what am I supposed to do here? Act like a teenager, dress like a teenager, and avoid aging and be generally embarrassing ? But then I step back and well ….there will always be someone older than me, younger than me, poorer than me, richer than me, bigger house, smaller house, and so on. That is like the balance of life. So why not just be more accepting and move on?

Another friend and I were talking this morning about how we have stayed together as friends and love our lives, our homes, our families. Nothing is perfect, it doesn’t have to be. We are grateful for what we have and for each other. We were once part of a larger circle, and the circle has shrunk as other women we know have changed and spread out into different circles that fit their lives.

We have seen some morph into cliques of mean girls in rather strange places like church groups. Who knew Sunday school meant mean mommy time? I find that sad. People using the church lady cloak to just be bitchy is so 1960s and the era of drunken cocktail parties.

We also marvel at the ones who worked really hard to get their goals (for lack of a better description) and who are so malcontented that they still can’t be happy. Ever. We all have those moments, but what happened that these people let it drive the bus? Life isn’t a Real Housewife franchise even if we like to watch that sometimes on television.

And then there are the friends who are just lost. There is a sadness when we discuss them, because we miss the people they used to be.

Life and relationships are work. And maintenance and selflessness. Life and relationships are fabulous and messy and wonderful. And we age. Like it or not as someone in my house likes to remind me, we aren’t 18 anymore.

Good, because I don’t need to be 18 again. It was fun, but that teenage girl is not the me of today. Parts of her still live within me I suppose, but I kind of like where I am. I am happy and I am loved….and I have a big garden all my own that I can create and a house that is perfect for my family.

Does that sound simplistic ? Maybe it does or maybe through life experience and my aging I have learned what is important. Part of my life experience has been breast cancer. That is why I also write a breast cancer blog. But the odd thing about having breast cancer is in a lot of ways it has freed me. Maybe why I don’t fear turning 50 and beyond is because I know I could have also NOT been that lucky to attain 50.

In closing today I share New Yorker cartoons. One from their March 17th edition and one from their March 24th edition. Although the grown up in me reads the New Yorker for the fabulous articles and solid writing, the child I once was still loves the cartoons.

Thanks for stopping by today.