My Kids are Returning to College. Here’s What Makes an Empty Nest Summer So Different

They arrive back home at all hours and in varying states of exhaustion.

They return from classes and from jobs, from trips and adventures in far-off cities. They seem different and exactly the same, all at once.

The door just seems to spin in an endless, slow revolution.

There are extra bags and piles of clothes scattered all over your house.

This is an empty nest summer.

mom and daughter kiss
Saying goodbye to my college kids and my empty nest summer. (Twenty20 @armisan)

You stay up too late, watching terrible movies or binging Netflix, just to spend extra minutes with them. You willingly and silently subject yourself to an aching back, so that you can sit on the floor with them playing their favorite boardgames.

You get all caught up (once again) on all the slang, the memes, the Twitter wars and the crazy Buzzfeed quizzes. You laugh until you cry.

You find yourself just listening to them talk to each other or watching them eat a snack together in the kitchen.

This is an empty nest summer.

One appeases you by agreeing to go watch The Lion King in the theater, listening to you tell them (again) how it was their favorite movie when they were four. And you sit together in that darkened theater, quietly singing along, knowing the lyrics to every song, with a few tears rolling down your cheeks.

They leave cups and glasses everywhere. They borrow your charger. They borrow your car.

They ask for special meals to be made and they load the dishwasher entirely wrong. You simply smile.

This is an empty nest summer.

You frantically strategize to find a few, free days where everyone can go away for just a long weekend. And then you realize the best opportunity is your anniversary weekend, and you happily allow them to tag along.

You tell them stories of your wedding day and how you wish that they could have been there, surrounded by family and friends, many of whom are no longer with you.

You remind them to make appointments, set up accounts, and do all kinds of planning that you used to do for them.

You acknowledge that things have changed, while often wishing you could go back to a time that was much more chaotic, yet simple as well.

You remind yourself (once again) that they will figure it all out.

This is an empty nest summer.

They make you laugh. They make you frustrated. They make you proud. They make you worry.

They are so completely thoughtful and helpful one minute, and rather immature the next.

They startle you with their insight and determination. They hug you with a scent and a muscle memory that neither of you will ever forget.

You worry (once again) that this definitely is the last summer you will all be under one roof, even if just for a couple of weeks. You hate the uncertainty of the future, yet you find hope and joy in it.

You want to take a million pictures. They roll their eyes and laugh at you.

You shed tears when they begin to pack up once again. You love that they are excited to see their friends again.

You watch them lie on the floor with their dog, with a lump in your throat.

You see yourself in them – the youthful optimism, the hesitations, and the naivete. You wish that you could impart all the wisdom, and none of the weariness, that your experiences and age have gifted you.

You ruminate on the word bittersweet.

You wish that you could freeze time.

You muster up the courage to watch your heart walk away from you. You’ve done it before, but this act requires some bravery every single time.

You think about how many weeks or months it will be before you can hug them again.

And you wonder (once again) how a summer can pass so quickly.

Cause a little bit of summer

Is what the whole year

Is about.”

John Mayer

Grown and Flown the Book is now available for pre-order (and a gift until Sept 3.)

More to Read:

What the Summer Before College is Like for My Son and Me

Grown and Flown: The Book

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

Read more posts by Marybeth

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