Something is missing. This has been brewing for a while, but what started as a trickle has grown into a full-fledged flood of quiet. Last year I went to my 12th grade daughter’s first semester’s PTA night and was unexpectedly informed that this would be the last one held for her class. That was it. After years of going to PTA meetings, I was abruptly done! That was the beginning of my wakeup call. Then over the summer I saw advertisements for school supplies and textbooks. I usually check out the ads for used books early on to get first dibs at the discounts. But then I realized that I won’t be needing any of the above. Recently I walked past my daughter’s school one night and noticed clusters of chatting mothers. It took a moment until I realized that they had just finished attending curriculum night, a meeting to which I was not invited. All the school year prep skipped right over our household. Then came the chagim. Not only was my home empty of Yom Tov-themed art projects exuberantly delivered by little pudgy hands, but on Rosh Hashanah our home was empty of most of the artists who created those same projects over the years. When bein hazmanim ended, the abrupt and thunderous quiet ushered us into our newly empty nest. Did you hear me?? An empty nest!!! Gone are the days when all they wanted was to snuggle up with Mommy with a nice cozy book. Gone are the days of running from the school bus into Mommy’s waiting embrace and endless requests for just one more hug at bedtime. Gone are the days when we would sit near the window and listen to the scary sounds of rain, thunder, and lightning from the shelter of our living room. Gone are the days when the greatest people on the planet were Mommy and Abba, and their opinions were the only ones that mattered. Gone are the days when baking cookies with Mommy was the highlight of the week, followed closely behind with showing off newly learned knowledge at the Shabbos table and taking turns on Abba’s shoulders during the post-Havdalah dance. You might be thinking that all I’ve just described are things that happened ages ago, but that’s not the case! I’m talking about yesterday!! Really!! But I guess I blinked. And after all the chaos of diapers, sleepless nights, sibling squabbles, homework, cooking, and cleaning, I opened my eyes and found that my cozy nest was empty. No reason to rush home to greet the little ones. No reason to plan their favorite dinners. No reason to stop off on my way home from work to pick up their this or drop off their that. No trips to the pediatrician, tutor, or chug. No consultations with teachers, not even by phone. No spontaneous trips to the mall to celebrate whatever. No searching for the most colorful Band-aids or buying sugary Shabbos cereal. No carpool, not even car excursions to help young drivers gain more driving experience. No late-night heart-to-hearts. True, there are some advantages. The food bill has been drastically reduced and my laundry pile no longer competes with Mount Everest for being the highest mountain. I have more time to attend shiurim and engage in my hobbies. While some of these things can be done on weekends when the birds come home to roost, for the most part they’re off and running, having moved on to a time in their lives that doesn’t include constant parental involvement or even parental awareness. They are on their way to independence, which among other things translates into that “you have got to be kidding me” look I get if I even suggest that doing something just a tad differently may be considered advantageous. They may ask for advice at times, but that is the only time they will be open to receiving it.
Every transition requires adjustment. Even positive developments can evoke mixed feelings. Truthfully, I am happy to see my children grow and develop into the wonderful young adults they have become. But, for one thing, it is downright scary. I much prefer the illusion of control I felt when we sat in the shelter of our home rather than sending them off into the frightening world in which we live in today. And their growth is often accompanied by a sting and a tear as I look back toward the not-so-distant past and sentimentally recall the years that have all-too-quickly flown by. As they grow and move onto new stages of life I am forced to confront the fact that my husband and I do the same. While we are still young (yes, we really are, please believe me!), and certainly young at heart, we are not the youngest couple on the block and we are not getting any younger. I would prefer not to think about how I viewed people my age when I was the ages of my children.
The good news is that I look forward to many good things to come, b’ezrat Hashem. This stage of life comes with its own set of perks that I hope to enjoy with my husband in a way that’s different from the days of chaos. Maybe the process of emptying our nest is necessary in order to make room for other things, like a greater ability to smell the roses and to be more fully present in our familial interactions. Just maybe our nest isn’t really as empty as I thought.
By Suzie Steinberg
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh