The bulk of my posts are of a professional nature which is ironic because the writing that I help my applicants do is of a deeply personal type. The best essays tell an intimate story about a person, so students need to be able to comfortably share private parts of themselves that they might not readily share in their day to day life. I was on a road trip this past week doing tons of driving to get one of my biological children delivered to their next activity and I had time to think behind the wheel as I drove about 1,000 miles in 72 hours, more than half of it alone. The idea for this post came from that drive and initially I rebuffed the idea of writing such a personal post in a professional space, but I reflected on the coaxing that I do with my clients to dig hard into their personal stories and let them out and I thought that it would be a good exercise for me to do the same thing. My work with my students calls on all my experiences, as a mother, teacher, and human on this journey we call life. When I “consult” I am drawing on my professional background, but all of the aforementioned aspects of my experience come into play as I help students tell their unique story. And the story of my road to an empty nest is unique, so here goes…
Two years ago, in the summer of 2017, my three children had completed 12th, 9th and 7th grade. I was crossing the threshold of “Sending My First Born To College” and all of the accouterments that go along with that milestone. But at the time, the Empty Nest seemed a long way off. I still had two kids at home for the next three years and I really didn’t give it a thought. My oldest settled into college without any issues and we adjusted to being parents of two kids at home and one away. The following summer, my second child opted to enter an early college program after 10th grade, a year earlier than normal. And just like that, we were home with one child. Fast forward to the summer of 2019, and child number three has decided to continue her high school experience at a residential boarding school. So out of the blue, two years after sending my oldest off, thinking that I had years of parenting kids at home ahead of me, my husband and I are looking at an Empty Nest this September.
Each of my children is at a unique school that really suits them, so up until now, I have been upbeat and excited for everyone. No one would ever accuse me of being a Tiger Mom or a Helicopter Parent (or a Snowplow, or a Lawnmower. When the Academic Dean at my youngest’s school called me to talk about her schedule, I had to apologize. I did not know what she was taking). I raised them to be independent and the end goal was for them to be able to leave home and thrive, so by all accounts, I have done what I set out to do. So I was caught unaware when I found myself outside of a Five Guys Burgers & Fries in Albany and my heart landed in my throat at the thought of the Empty Nest.
My family of origin spent our happiest times at the beach and when it came to raising my own family, that is where we settled. Our house is walking distance to the ocean and on a quiet night, you can hear the waves crashing in the distance and smell the salty air. Along the way, we acquired a house in the mountains and traveled most winter weekends and vacations to spend time there. Our kids were 2, 4 and 6 when we finished construction and our Fridays from Thanksgiving to early April required a military level of precision and organization to Get-on-the-road-ahead-of-the-traffic. We had an array of school pick up routines, pleading with our young children to make sure they visited the restroom before they came out and to come out as soon as possible! If we got stuck behind the school bus on Navesink River Road, that could cost us minutes that might cost us more time on the Parkway and even more time if we didn’t beat the Albany rush hour on the Northway. So, every minute counted and our Friday departure always had an urgency that dissipated as we rolled north.
In order to accommodate the 3 pm departure, my husband had to be able to take work calls until 5. If his phone rang, I immediately snapped to attention and sternly commanded everyone to maintain complete silence. As my husband took the call I would face backward, imploring my tiny children to not make a peep. Not one sound! Have you ever seen those submarine movies where they have to maintain silence? That is what it was like. When my husband concluded his call, I would exhale and give the all-clear signal and turn the video back on. Commuting 8+ hours a weekend brought the challenge of finding videos that three different ages could all enjoy. “My Little Pony” did not work for the oldest and “Transformers” did not work for the youngest. I hit the motherlode when I found season one of the Partridge Family for ten dollars. This provided forty hours of viewing and we got up to Season 5 before my kids outgrew it. As a family, we could burst into, “Travelin’ along is the song that we’re singin’…” on a moments notice.
Along the way, we made it a habit to stop at the Five Guys Burgers & Fries in Clifton Park, NY. This was the perfect balance between grabbing fast food and eating in the car and stopping at a full-service restaurant. In the dark of winter, we would make a quick stop, stretch our legs, eat some hot food, talk about how our week was and what the ski conditions might be like and start to relax into the weekend. Of all the different dinner configurations that we tried over the years, this one was the best solution.
A few days ago I found myself with my youngest and her friend outside of “our” Five Guys in July. As we drove away, I told her friend, “That is where we always stop for dinner on Fridays in the winter”, and my heart landed in my throat. There would be no more family stops at Five Guys! This was the first time that I felt a sense of loss at the Empty Nest. I held back a tear as I drove on to the Northway with a lump in my throat. All of those crazy Friday departures, leaving the school, trying to jockey to not get stuck at the intersection with the slow crossing guard, running through yellow lights to get out to the highway, carefully checking google maps to avoid traffic jams. You would have thought we were trying to get ahead of a tsunami or an erupting volcano as you watched our SUV pull out of town on two wheels.
And now my gang is spread out across the same latitude up in the North Country. Just like I went to the place where my family had their happiest times, my kids have all migrated up to where we spent our winters. I think the next month might be a roller coaster but I am optimistic for September and beyond. My husband and I have a laundry list of activities planned and including Parents Weekend at three different schools. And who knows, maybe the two of us will make a new Friday night winter dinner routine?