Be Careful What You Wish For: My Empty Nest Is Unexpectedly Full

As of yesterday, my nest is once again — unexpectedly — full. And while I’ve spent the past year and a half lamenting its emptiness and wishing for more days where the four of us could cohabitate under the same roof, this isn’t right, and certainly doesn’t feel the way I thought it would.

I had been searching for a time when we could all be together…but not like this. (Twenty20 @Kristina_Monmoransi)

Last month I was trying to find a date for us to be together

As recently as a month ago I was trying like hell to strategize a plan where our family would be together for more than a weekend. I was desperate for time together where we weren’t living out of suitcases and having to eat out every meal. Frankly, I was sick of trying to corral everyone with their different schedules (oh, how naive that seems now).

I was looking ahead at the spring and summer months, hoping to find a chunk of time between my younger daughter’s college and summer job schedule and the end my older daughter’s internship where we could all converge at home. I craved living casually like we used to before every reunion was held in a hotel or was relegated to a quick weekend at home trying to cram in all the favorite things. Being bored together sounded heavenly.

Be careful what you wish for, they say.

After a lot of staring at the boxes on my calendar and penciling in a bunch of possible scenarios, I came up with nothing. When you have two grown girls in different states with rigid college and job schedules that don’t allow for any extended time off, family togetherness is mostly brought to you by FaceTime. “Maybe in August we can try to find four or five days to just hang out here at home,” I suggested, but I knew that was a pipe dream.

Now, unexpectedly we are living under the same roof again

And then, just-like-that, Coronavirus hit the United States and I got what I wished for. My Connecticut college daughter came home for spring break and may not get to return this semester (it’s still TBD, but I think we all know it’s pretty determined). Her semester, almost certainly, will be completed via Skype classes from home. She’s crushed. Ironically, it was only a couple of short months ago that she’d forced herself to return to campus after winter break. After a difficult transition in the fall and some subsequent rough weeks, she’d finally found her groove and was loving college life.

Be careful what you wish for, they say.

My older daughter made the difficult decision to leave her gratifying internship in the Florida Keys and drive the three days back home to Minnesota alone (in case you’re wondering how long it took me to exhale). With the uncertainty of her job security and the fear of getting stuck so far away due to COVID-19 travel bans and hotel closures, it was the right decision. (You know things are dire when you pull up stakes and escape the Keys to return to winter in Minnesota.)

Because of several internships she’s had in Florida, she hadn’t been at home for more than a handful of days in the past 14 months, and has wished — many times — for just a week off to hang out at home and sleep in her own bed with her cat.

Be careful what you wish for, they say.

Suddenly, schedules and job obligations are irrelevant. Just like I’ve wished for years, my family is all under one roof, in jammies all day, watching movies together, playing old board games we found in the cupboard, leaving empty glasses on the counter and wet towels on the floor, and yes, taking naps with cats. Our quiet house is suddenly full of my girls’ laughter coming from one bedroom or another and their voices belting out show tunes in the shower.

I love having them home, but not for this reason

Every night I get the tight goodnight hugs that I’ve so desperately missed. And while my heart is bursting with contentment at this unexpected round two, this is not the way I wanted things to be.

As hard as it’s been for me to accept, I’ve known for years that there really isn’t a scenario where all of us would once again live casually together. My kids grew up and chased dreams that not only took them far away from home, but kept them there. Never in my wildest wishes could I have imagined what has brought us all so suddenly back together. And while I am certainly, obviously, overjoyed to have them here, I’m also scared, sad, and unsettled.

Because sure, I have a full home, heart, and dishwasher once again, but it’s not how it’s supposed to be, and I’ll be honest, I don’t want it at this expense. If I could erase the fear and uncertainty we are all currently living in and go back to frantically trying to find an overlap in all of our schedules and laugh together via FaceTime, I would.

Be careful what you wish for, they say.

You know what? They’re right, whoever they are. I think I’ll stop wishing for a while and just take whatever the moment gives me. And right now it’s a full load of towels to fold, which I’ll do, happily.

Other Posts You Will Enjoy:

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

Michelle Newman spent 23 years as a stay at home mom to two daughters and most of the past seven writing about them. Even though they’re both now grown and flown, she’s learning that life in an empty nest is still full and the material just keeps coming. Besides telling stories on her blog,, Michelle has had essays published in several humor anthologies, on various parenting websites, and has also written for Follow her on Facebook and  Twitter and Instagram

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!

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