Three Words That Mean Everything to a New Empty Nest Mom

Three simple words that hung on our wall in the little apartment that became our home three years ago, post-Harvey. Three words that meant the world to me the day I closed my parent’s home down for the last time just 5 months later and spent the afternoon sobbing uncontrollably on the couch – certain that what was left of my heart would shatter into a million pieces.

Three words that were nothing but a cool neon sign until the moment I looked up from my grief with swollen eyes with snot running down my face and truly read them for the first time. Three simple words that mean even more now that my only child is attending college in Colorado and I have started a new life, in a new city.

Where Love Lives.

Where has love lived? Where does it live today? And where will it live tomorrow, next month or 10-20-30 years from now?

As a single mom, have I done right by my son? (Twenty20 @Mel76)

As a single mom, have I done right by my son?

As many single moms, I wonder if I have done right by my child. Did I give him the roots he will need to continue growing strong as his college years go by and true adulthood appears on the horizon? Will he be okay even if I didn’t raise him in the traditional family home? The one filled with memories of every holiday and growth charts carved into a doorframe? The answer is yes.

It isn’t the home we choose that matters. It isn’t the fancy city home, the modest ranch-style home, the apartment, patio home or farmhouse where we raise our kids. Each of them, while lovely in their own unique way, serve only as a vessel for where memories are made. It’s up to us to make them.

Where does love live?

Love lives in our kitchens where we spend hours listening to stories about school and practices and exams. Where we give (sometimes) unwanted advice about relationships and give permission to stay out an hour later because life as they know it would come to end if we said no.

Love lives in our living rooms where we eat dinner a majority of the time while watching reruns of The Office or Friends rather than something a little more intellectual because it’s been a long day and we just want to connect through laughter. It lives in our family rooms where we open Christmas presents; our laundry rooms where we hold our breath around the moldy contents of a swim bag and other grody things.

And love lives in our driveways as we give them kisses on the cheek and huge hugs while we remind them to be safe, one more time.

Love lives in dirty diapers, carpools and grandparent’s day at school and in a million other things we do – depending on what stage we happen to be in right now.

It lives in bleachers while we are watching batting practice, and in the stands when we are watching them crush a 100m freestyle.

Love lives in road trips to places unseen with the windows down and classic rock blaring. It lives in the Sunday mornings spent at the church of dirt watching the sunrise and on bike rides chasing the sunsets.

Love lives in the I’m so proud of you’s and the “lack of preparation on your part does not constitute emergency on my part’s”, and in the life lessons they sometimes learn by watching us make mistakes of our own.

For my child, love now lives in the college dorm he shares with a roommate and in the apartment he will soon move into after freshman year. It lives in the study halls where he social distances while pulling all-nighters for an exam and in the zoom calls where his mind is opened to new ideas and possibilities.

Love lives in the adventures he takes and the mountains he climbs without me; the part-time job he will get to help pay his way, and in the new friends he is making.

Love will live wherever he decides to settle down after grad school; where he starts a family of his own and works on his career. And hopefully, love will live in the roots I gave him – the ones he took from our own garden to replant for himself.

What is next for mom?

As many new empty-nesters, I have questions. What now? What do I do? Where do I go from here ? Maybe I should do something epic to celebrate this new-found freedom? And while sometimes I think I have all the answers; the reality is I don’t. And that is A-Okay.

What I know is this….love lives in the airports as I anxiously wait to board a plane to go see him. It lives in the moments I put my arms around him for the first time in months. Love lives in the text messages and FaceTime calls (when I can actually get him on the phone, that is). It will live in the virtual parent’s weekend, the upcoming holidays and summers when life gets back to “normal.”

Love will live in my own new love, new experiences and even within the tears I shed from time to time because I miss him. It will live in the immense pride I have in the incredible child I raised and in the journal of my life – the one that is bound by unexpected encounters and unchartered territory – because if I have learned one thing so far, it’s how to take all of the tools from the gardens I tended before and plant new roots so that I, too, can begin again.

We will all figure out where love lives for us

Maybe you don’t know just yet where love lives for you, but trust me, you WILL figure it out. We all find the answers of where to live and what to do and we make our way through childhood, friendships, marriages and careers. We make our way through all of it with smiles on our faces, laughter in our hearts, and sometimes with tears in our eyes. We make our way through divorce and loss and new beginnings for ourselves and for our children as we watch them fly away on the wings we gave them.

And love? Love will always live in the journey. Hang in there, empty-nesters. We are all doing just fine.

More Great Reading:

Empty Nest, I Had to Give Up on the Knowing and Settle for Uncertainty

About Karen Hall

Karen is an Austin-based writer and high school English teacher who loves (and writes about) life, love, fitness and adventure in your 50s.

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