Before You Return to Your Empty Nest, Embrace it Somewhere Else

Last week, after dropping our baby at college in Connecticut over 1,300 miles away (1,330 to be exact, although 1,300 sounds so much better…and closer), my husband and I escaped to Cape Cod for a three day vacation to celebrate our freedom, toast our parenting success, and kick off this new and exciting chapter in our lives.

Eh, let’s be honest, the trip was really about denial, distraction, and postponing the inevitable return to a very empty and quiet house.

woman on beach at cape cod
This next phase of life should be commemorated and yes, celebrated — however you do it. (Michelle Newman)

Empty Nest Trip: After you drop your teen at college, don’t rush home to  your empty nest

When I first realized we’d be flying our girl to college, it occurred to me that after the dreadful goodbye my husband and I would have to go straight to the airport and make the two and a half hour trip back home. Since I doubted there were enough floatation devices on the plane to accommodate the tears I’d most likely be producing, I knew needed a new plan – an escape plan, if you will – and hence, the “Reverse Babymoon” was born (trademark pending).

I knew in my gut this goodbye was going to be different than the one we’d experienced five years ago. Back then we had a five-hour car ride home to pull our shit together, which we did pretty successfully by the end of hour one. (I know, impressive, right?)

Taking care of the little sister’s resulting heartache – which was torturous in its magnitude – quickly became my diversion over those first few days after drop-off, and I’ll be honest, distracted me right out of my own pain. This time, though, the little sister was the one leaving, and I needed to create a new diversion, this time for me. One that preferably included a beach and turn down service.

Let’s go to Cape Cod!” I exclaimed to my husband. “Nantucket! Or Martha’s Vineyard!” I’d always wanted to visit that part of the country, and while this wasn’t exactly a good excuse to go, it was certainly an excuse in my opinion. I desperately needed a reason to not dread this drop-off trip with every cell in my body.

couple at beach
I desperately needed a reason to not dread this drop-off trip with every cell in my body.

And I’ll admit: the distraction worked. The excited anticipation of planning took the edge off the trepidation of knowing how we’d be spending the first half of that week. Did it eliminate it completely? Don’t be silly. While we were excited for our Trip of Denial, we always knew that’s exactly what it was, and in the end the pain of the goodbye was still every bit as brutal as expected.

The trip itself, however, did its job…mostly. Let’s just say it was like a good second glass of wine. The charming inn, lovely beach walks, shopping excursions, and savory bowls of clam chowder blurred the pain of the drop-off fairly successfully. (Hey, I didn’t say it was a good second glass of wine.)

Did it feel like a vacation? Not entirely. While it certainly lifted the load a bit, we both still felt the weight of the monumental life event that had just happened. (Trust me, there’s not a picturesque lighthouse or lobster roll that can totally alleviate that.) We still had a few moments when the point of the trip wasn’t lost on us, which usually happened when toasting to our 23-year parenting journey and the great girls we raised with wine glasses full of tears. Because yes, we let ourselves feel all the feelings — the good, the bad, and the painful — which we knew was important, and I won’t lie, was a lot easier to do while walking on the beach at sunset than while standing in her empty bedroom.

Sure, we still had to board the plane and return to a quiet, empty house (which slammed us back to reality pretty quickly), but having marked the moment and worked through a bit of the complicated emotions somewhere different somewhat softened the blow.

Grown and Flown readers have lots of ideas of how to celebrate the empty nest

It turns out we’re not the only ones who’ve embraced the empty nest in this way (although I’m still claiming trademark on that “Reverse Babymoon” moniker). When I asked other Grown & Flown readers to share ways they’ve marked the moment, I was floored by the response. From Dubai to Iceland to a weekend trip to Vegas, it seems like many bucket lists are finally getting some attention now that there aren’t those pesky kids around to get in the way.

couples in vegas
“Embrace the Empty Nest” t-shirts

Group trips with other couples (one reader even made cute “Embrace The Empty Nest” t-shirts for everyone in her group) and trips with other singles, many parents are taking this time to get away and do something fun for themselves (i.e., drink and eat their feelings in a place other than home).

The two-seater convertible I saw is not a bad idea AT ALL.

Can’t get away? No problem! There are other ways readers distracted themselves. I heard about staycations, scheduling a day or two off work after drop-off to wallow (as well as making sure making sure to be scheduled the day after drop off for a distraction), nice dinners out, meeting up locally for drinks with fellow empty nesters, and new car shopping (the two-seater convertible I saw is not a bad idea AT ALL). One reader and her husband even bought an apartment in NYC! Now that’s a fresh nest!

My #emptynest2019 was derailed by #unprotectedsex2016.

Listen, we may be moving on from a big stage in our lives, but this next phase should be commemorated and yes, celebrated — however you do it. And if you need some perspective, just read this comment from a reader, which accompanied a photo of an adorable toddler: “My #emptynest2019 was derailed by #unprotectedsex2016.”

I say we all buy her a drink.

Other posts you will enjoy:

Senior Year of High School: Wishing for a Little More Time 

21 Things You’ll Love about Your Empty Nest 

About Michelle Newman

Michelle Newman is one of the hosts and producers of The Pop Culture Preservation Society, a podcast dedicated to preserving the pop culture nuggets of our GenX childhoods, from Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees to Battle of The Network Stars. She’s spent the past nine years writing for publications like Grown & Flown, Entertainment Weekly, and The Girlfriend, as well as for her (now silent) blog, You’re My Favorite Today. A recent empty nester, Michelle finds immense joy connecting with others through the memories of their 70s childhoods. Follow the Pop Culture Preservation Society on Instagram and listen wherever you get podcasts!

Read more posts by Michelle

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