by Lisa Wingate
It’s football season. In town, green and black streamers dangle from STOP signs. Cars drive by with shoe polish slogans splashed across the windows. Beat the Bulldogs. Can the Cats. Little girls in mini cheerleader suits turn lopsided cartwheels on the school playground, dreaming of one day leading cheers under Friday night lights.
I realized, as I was standing in the grocery line the other day—for the first time in fifteen years, I have absolutely no reason to go to the game. No man-child on the field. No horn player marching with the band. It’s over. Friday night is… just another night now, at least for me.
These things hit me at the strangest times. One minute, life seems normal, and then the next, my mind turns a blind corner and I’m struck by the realization that the last of something has come and gone without warning. Almost unnoticed, even. It’s a shift in reality that’s so quiet, so stealthy you never knew what hit you… until it does.
I stagger a few steps when it happens, my mind either trying to grasp what’s real now, or protesting against it. What? No more football games? No more band concerts? No more field trips, lunch boxes, little boys hopping off the school bus and running up the driveway with book bags bouncing on their backs. How can this be? Where did so much time go?
Isn’t there anything I can do about it? Don’t I get a vote?
The lasts of parenthood can be so hard to take. Whether it’s the last child in the nest, the last year of high school, the last year of elementary school, or the last year of babies at home, it’s hard to say good-bye to something you’ve loved.
I’m trying to remember, as I go through this final year of high school with our youngest, that the end of something old is by implication the beginning of something new. Firsts and lasts are all tied up together, twisted like kite string on a windy day.
I want to do my best to make this a year of celebrating firsts rather than mourning lasts, so with the help of some experienced empty-nester friends, I’ve come up with a list of strategies for focusing forward and making this a year of celebration with my last fledgling in the nest:
Celebrating New Beginnings From Old Endings
1. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. One thing I’ve learned from so many years of teaching high school seniors in Sunday school class is that it’s difficult for kids to watch their parents grieving all the endings. Typically, kids have some amount of grief, too, and it doesn’t help when it’s the last concert, pep rally, or football game and they look up in the stands and see Mom weeping or Dad getting misty-eyed. Why not cheer the fact that you’ve made it here rather than bemoaning the fact that you won’t be coming back again? Who wants tears to be last memory of something that was fun?
2. Plan some fun future activities. Why not think about scheduling that cruise to Alaska or that trip to Hawaii… or even just a drive out to Yellowstone, or a week at the beach? Having something to look forward to is a great way to keep from looking back at what has been.
3. Try something new every month. Consider checking out some opportunities to volunteer, returning to an old craft you may have given up or an interest you had in the past, or even just going out to dinner or the movies with a friend. Why not think about researching educational opportunities? Maybe that first empty nest year would be the perfect time for taking a class, or working toward that degree you’ve been thinking about. Having a plan makes the future seem more like something that is supposed to happen more rather than something that that’s been forced upon you.
4. Start a journal. Start a journal and record things you really like about the life you have now. Thinking about all the things you’re grateful for (for instance, your young adult’s ability to drive independently all those school activities) is a great way to appreciate where you are now.
5. Give young mom a break. All things in the past grow rosier as they take on the pearlescent sheen of memory — including being home with young children. To remind yourself of the advantages of being parents of young adults, consider offering to babysit for the day (or if you’re really brave, for weekend) for a mom with young children. Make a few trips to the shopping mall. Try having a meaningful phone conversation while a little person whines and tugs on your pant leg. Stay up half the night with a child who’s sick for having nightmares. Do a few hours of elementary-school math homework. Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded that the little-kid phase wasn’t just fun and games, either.
6. Find a quiet time. Arrange some time you can spend by yourself, mooning over photo albums, or looking through the old boxes of grade-school worksheets, or watching home movies from days gone by. With no one else around you can laugh, and cry, and walk through not only your grief, but your gratefulness for all the good times you’ve had together.
7. Let some things wait. Now isn’t the time to let your inner perfectionist go crazy. Give yourself permission to let some tasks wait. Why make this year about running around like a crazy person, trying to get the house in perfect order before the graduation party? Throw things in a closet and close the door. There will be plenty of time for pick-up-clean-up later. For now, just enjoy the ride!
If all of these things don’t work, return to Step 5 again… however many times it takes. There is something to be said for being past the point of hauling around car seats, and strollers, and porta-cribs, and diaper bags, and bottles, and formula. Every stage of life has its blessings and its challenges.
May we all remember, as the seasons change and we say goodbye to one phase of life, that this is only the beginning of another phase. There is a time for every purpose.
May this be your season not for crying, but for dancing.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1