Empty Nester Diary: How a Single Mom Makes Peace With the Quiet

Day One

7:00 pm: I return home from dropping my youngest at college to two hungry cats and a piece of leftover chicken parmesan my son made the night before we left. It is especially delicious, washed down with a glass of Montepulciano wine. It is so quiet. I spend too much time deciding on my next binge-watch, then fall asleep on the couch before I watch anything.

Day Two

7:30 am: I awake to more quietIn the months leading up to this moment, I stockpiled many projects. Finally, I thought I would be able to focus on long-deferred business ideas! I purposefully left this first week open beyond work to hunker down and let the productivity roll.

11:00 am: It’s still quiet. I work at home, so it’s essential for my sanity that I get outside every day for a walk. Only this is the week a heat dome has encapsulated my state. With temps over 100 degrees, even taking out the trash is oppressive. No matter, more time to focus on my many ideas and projects!

5:45 pm: There’s no more chicken parm, so I head to Whole Foods to stock up. Not only did my plans include my dizzying productivity, but I also envisioned how I would be so healthy! I carefully fill my cart and return home laden with two ladylike bags of groceries. I make a big chopped salad for dinner and pour myself a glass of wine. I am doing so well!

8:20 pm: Still quiet, I can’t decide if I want to watch that series in my queue or if I just think it’s something I should want to watch. I wander over to the kitchen and stare at the inside of my refrigerator. Is it possible I spent that much on a bag of arugula, some organic raspberries, and a container of unsweetened cashew milk yogurt? My kids would make so much fun of me if only they could see this. But oh, right. My cats stare blankly at me even though they know the fridge situation is sad.

11:45 pm: I can’t sleep and set up a profile on Bumble in a manic burst of energy. Finally, at 2 am, I knock out.

mom and two sons
A single mom makes peace with the quiet. (Image vis Christine Triano)

Day Three

8:30 am: I check Bumble before my coffee, and this is a mistake. I turn my phone over and get to work.

12:00 noon: The heat is relentless. I go online and start looking for indoor workout classes. By the time lunch is over, I’ve booked myself Pilates, restorative yoga, and something called Body WaWa between now and the weekend. Did I mention one of my plans, along with eating shoots and leaves, is how fit I am going to get with all the working out I now have time for?

6:40 pm: I almost jumped out of my chair when my son called me from school. He dropped his phone in the bathroom sink while shaving, and now he needs a new one. No matter, we get to catch up! And I get to spend an hour-and-a-half with T-Mobile because why would ordering a new phone to be delivered to his dorm be easy? Still, I am needed!

9:00 pm: Why does everything on TV seem so uninteresting? I pick up my book club book, but who am I kidding? My focus is shot. I check Bumble and plummet into an alternate universe. Why do so many men have pics sitting in their car wearing sunglasses and profiles riddled with typos? There’s “your” and “you’re,” is that so hard? Is this an indicator of the amount of effort and care they have to offer? Are we all doomed?

My cats let me know I forgot to feed them dinner.

12:00 am: I delete Bumble.

Day Four

8:00 am: I am renewed. Not able to sleep at 2 am, I realized what I needed to do was to do new things! Over the next 14 hours, I chase many rabbits down many holes. Stand-up paddle boarding! Ballroom dancing! Beach clean-up! The list goes on. It is a long day.

12:00 am: By midnight, here’s where I land: I sign up to volunteer for the Humane Society and to staff a Women’s March rally. I purchase season theater tickets with a friend. I sign up for an unlimited deal at my favorite barre studio. I have my eye on a French class starting next month and a few art walks bookmarked. I have a few concerts coming up. I have a pickleball set in my Amazon shopping cart.

I haven’t figured out how to conquer stand-up paddle boarding, but as I scroll through my calendar, I feel a little less bereft.

Day Five

8:45 am: Now what? I make some coffee and get to work.

6:30 pm: Facebook pops up a memory of my youngest making waffles with his teddy bear Duffy. I’m not crying, you’re crying! Wiping the tears off my face, I use the promo code sitting in my email to have a bajillion family photos printed and framed. Because apparently, I need a photo wall.

Day Six

7:30 pm: Fine, I hear you knocking, and I no longer have the strength or disposable income not to let you in. Hello, Grief. What took you so long?

So, this is what it feels like when the identity that has informed your every waking moment for the past 21 years is no longer so relevant. Hmm. I will have to figure out how to sit with this one for a minute. Where’s that good bottle of pinot noir I’ve been saving?

Day Seven

6:15 am: I awake sore from a workout class designed for millennials to a call from my eldest, currently traveling through the Balkans. Over the next 25 minutes, he fills me in on all the people he’s meeting, places he’s been, and new plans he’s making. I am so pleased and proud he’s doing so well and being so brave out there on his own that after we hang up, I cry again. Only this time, the tears are lighter, and it’s like I can feel my heart opening up against the inside of my chest.

Okay, I think I’m starting to get it now. Also, this is not going to be easy. Or quick.

8:00 pm: I ask my youngest to get on Whats App so the three of us can start a new group chat while his brother travels. He jumps right on it, and the three of us spend the night trading photos of where we are and what we’ve been up to. There are mountains in Slovenia, foggy ocean views in San Francisco, and the ridiculously handsome faces of the two kind and intelligent humans out there making their way in the lives I raised them to have.

The cats cooperatively contribute their best poses to the thread, and when we finally wrap it up for the night, I notice the quiet is not so bad.

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21 Things You’ll Love About Your Empty Nest

About Christine Triano

Christine Triano is a writer and adolescent and adult psychotherapist in practice in California and New York. She frequently speaks about raising teenagers, including her own experiences raising two sons. You can find her on Facebook and follow her blog on Psychology Today.

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