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An Empty Nest

My oldest daughter left for college in August. Two weeks after that, my youngest started her freshman year at boarding school. The house went from one filled with teenagers bickering over borrowed clothes, hair clogged in drains, cereal boxes left open on counters, and sandals and sneakers strewn about the floors to what I have now: a tidy, quiet house. An empty house.

My empty nest syndrome has gotten so bad that I’m considering putting a baby bonnet on my Lab and pushing him around Georgetown in a stroller. I think Angus might like that. He already responds to “Mama’s baby,” sleeps in my bed, and gets a “treat-treat” whenever he looks cute—which is pretty much most of the time.

Walking with a friend, we discuss how it feels when your children are no longer in the house. It’s as if two limbs have been cut off, but you still feel them— my phantom children. For 18 years, their father and I fed them, drove them, kept them clean, clothed, educated, out of jail. The other day, around carpool time, I kept thinking I had to be somewhere. I had an eerie feeling that my phantom child was about to call me. “Mom, where are you? You’re late picking me up.”

But I received no such call. Not being yelled at for being late is a good thing in some ways. But I miss not being late. I miss the conversations we had after school, driving to Starbucks for a snack, hearing about “all the drama that went on today.”

Of course, we are still very much in touch. My high school freshman is a fast and furious texter, keeping me up to date on high school hijinks, how soccer practice is going, what clothes she needs. Plus, my ex-husband and I live close enough to go to most of her games, and she can come home on weekends. My college freshman, well, I pretty much see pictures of her on Facebook, holding the ubiquitous red solo cup. (Filled with ice water, obviously, because I’ve hammered home the importance of staying hydrated.)

Lately, I think I’ve creeped out young mothers in the playground at Montrose Park when up there walking Angus. “I feel like it was just yesterday that I was pushing my baby in a stroller.” They look at me, giving me a half smile, before scurrying away, probably thinking I’m about to kidnap their offspring.

But, jeez, it does feel like just yesterday. Truth be told, it’s not all bad having the girls out of the house. I’m free on weekends and most nights to come and go as I please. I’m also free to work and travel more. Having an empty nest feels a bit like a second act, a time to be more professionally and personally productive. But it’s a huge transition—for all of us. Just as the girls are figuring out friend groups and honing study habits, I seem to be figuring out my future.

I’m excited about what lies ahead for both myself and the girls. But that doesn't keep me from reaching for my missing limbs—or the box of tissues. I’ve been told the ache gets better and you adjust to an empty house and your children’s burgeoning independence. Until then, I’ll reach for the leash and the one child left behind at the end of it.