My husband is looking at condos on Zillow and asks me, “What do you think of this one?
It’s two bedrooms and near Harvard Square.”
“Does it have a garage?” I ask.
“Um. no” he says with resignation in his voice.
“Then, no.” I confirm what he already knows.
We are empty nesters. We’ve been playing with empty nesting for a couple years now. The kids have come and gone but now they seem to be gone more than they are here. We have lived in our house for 20 years. It’s the only home either of our children remember. It is “home.”
While My Husband Researches Moving Options, I Plant Trees
My husband is particularly eager to move on to the next stage of our life. He wants to downsize to condo life and “give” me the weekend/summer beach house I’ve always wanted. We love the city, we love the sea. It all makes perfect sense.
But, the thought of moving makes me uneasy so the next day I go out and buy a tree and plant it in the yard. My husband comes home, looks at the tree, and scratches his head.
On another day he asks, “How would you like to live in Europe for a few years?”
Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. I’ve wanted to live in Europe for a very long time. For years, I dreamed of bringing the girls there for a few years, having them go to an International School so they could make cool International friends, and maybe even become bilingual. But, they wouldn’t be coming with us. They have lives here.
“That would be cool I guess.” I say. He looks at me totally perplexed. He knows how much I love Europe. And, my only sibling lives in Europe. He thinks, not without good reason, that I’d jump at the chance.
I plant another tree. He scratches his head. “What’s up with the trees?” He asks. I really don’t know.
I do know that I enjoy watering the trees, tending to them, and planting flowers around them. Clearly I need something to nurture. The proverbial “they” say when a woman is about to give birth she will start “nesting” around the house right before the baby is born.
Perhaps my proclivity for planting trees and flowers after my kids have flown the coop could be deemed “empty nesting.” A new term perhaps? As in, “Does anyone know why Deb just planted 20 trees and 10 peony bushes in her yard?” “Well, she’s empty nesting of course!”
The Life We Built During the Last 20 Years
My husband has spent the last twenty years of his life commuting back and forth to work and in the evenings and on weekends he would come home and enjoy time with the family. He really loves his family.
I have spent the last twenty years of my life building myself a community with friends and neighbors. I have a life here. He will have our family wherever we are, and that is just fine with him. But, I wonder what kind of life I will have if I leave the gorgeous, intricate web that I have spent the last twenty years spinning and creating.
My husband and I go into the city for dinner on a beautiful summer night. He can’t help but look at the locale as a potential neighborhood to live in.
“What do you think of this neighborhood?” he asks.
“It’s lovely.” I say, and knowing what he’s about to say next, I add, “for the people who live here, it’s lovely, for me, it’s a nice place to have dinner.”
I go home and plant another tree. My husband says, “The trees have go to stop.”
I have to admit that I moved to this house kicking and screaming. I was a cosmopolitan girl who liked to travel and go out to brunch (on foot) on the weekends. Suburban life felt like being exiled.
My husband moved a lot as a kid. He would just get settled and then his parents would decide to move and he’d have to go with them. He wanted stability for the kids. He wanted them to have a real home that didn’t change on a yearly basis. I didn’t want to leave the city, but I could see where he was coming from so I relented. Over time we put down roots and flourished. And now this is home. This. Is. Home.
My husband emails me a link to a beach house in my favorite seaside town in Maine. I retaliate with a picture of a peach tree.
When the kids first left home and went to college they came home fairly frequently. It seemed like the dust in their rooms barely had time to settle before they were kicking it up again. Now, our oldest daughter has graduated college and officially moved out. Our youngest will be living in an off-campus apartment for the next school year, and has chosen to live there this summer. She’s rarely home. The dust has time to settle now. The house suddenly seems terribly, awfully, big and ever so empty.
Passing an empty bedroom that has become merely a shrine to a childhood that has passed is never easy. It always seems to make my heart sink to see the sun freely streaming out of an open door that should be shut, signaling that a child sleeps soundly within with the shades drawn.
The kitchen fridge and pantry are no longer regularly stocked with the kids favorite foods. Lettuce, kale and boneless, skinless chicken breast fill our “let’s be healthy” fridge and I find myself missing the Oreos falling out of the pantry when I open it’s doors, signaling that someone had be late night binge snacking and failed to put them back where they belonged. It used to annoy me so much and now, what I wouldn’t do for a package of Oreos to hit me on the head when I open the cupboard door.
We can try to deny it but change finds us anyway. Staying in one place does not mean that everything will stay the same. We do not have that kind of power.
With great apprehension, I open the email that my husband had sent me of the house by the sea in Maine. It really is quite charming. I can just maybe imagine sitting on the porch on a foggy morning with a cup of coffee taking in the view, smelling the briny air.
My dog Teddy is sleeping beside me (dogs can live forever in our imaginations, right?) Perhaps one of my children will be visiting and she is sleeping upstairs in the bedroom with the strawberry wallpaper (with the door properly shut and the shades drawn). Imaginary blueberry pancakes are on the stove and the smell of syrup fills the house.
That night I hear my husband’s car pull into the garage but he doesn’t come into the house immediately. I find him in the yard standing and admiring the baby peach tree I recently planted. I stand next to him and try to imagine what he’s thinking.
“Won’t it be nice when this tree gets big enough that we can just reach up from the deck and grab a peach right off the branch?” he asks.
I look at him in total and utter confusion and say, “That won’t be for many years.”
We look at each other and shrug our shoulders. My grandmother had a sign hanging in her bathroom that said, “there are two gifts we should give our children: one is roots, and the other is wings”
Once our children find their wings and leave us with an empty nest, it can be quite disorienting. And I’m quite sure at some point in the not to distant future we will make peace with the fact that the roots we gave our children never had anything to do with actual trees. Around the same time perhaps we will take a good look at ourselves and remember that we too have wings and maybe, just maybe, we will use them to fly!
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