Ready or Not: When You’re Facing the Empty Nest

My kids leave for college in one week.

Both of my kids.

All of my kids.

Next Tuesday they’ll drive 13ish hours to Eugene, Oregon in Jack’s car.

Bill and I are flying up Wednesday to settle Karly into her dorm and Jack into his apartment.

Two days later, Bill and I will board the plane to LAX without them.

(If Jack’s drop-off set any precedent, I’ll wear sunglasses to avoid scaring others with my sad, swollen eyes. But I will feel happy and proud. Also there will be a pit in my stomach. Big enough for both of my kids. For all of my kids. Then we will text each other and, after a few days, I’ll FaceTime my babies and all will be well. Quiet. Impossible. But also true.)

In the meantime, Bill and I find ourselves looking at each other, saying

When did that happen? We’re still in our twenties!

(Okay. Forties.)

Just yesterday or maybe last month or 20 years ago we were in our Izusu Trooper driving 45 in the slow lane terrified of everyone else BECAUSE WE HAVE A NEWBORN IN OUR CAR AND WHY ARE YOU SPEEDING SO FAST AND SO CLOSE TO US AND WHAT WERE WE THINKING WE AREN’T READY TO HAVE A BABY.

Nope. We weren’t ready to be parents. But it happened anyway. We had a baby. Then we had another one.

Then we had 18 more years and then

ready or not. There they go.

So I wake up to feed the dogs and shuffle around with my coffee in the dark, listening to the sounds of this almost-silent house. Jack and Karly sleep in late these days. I have the time and space to write. But I can’t focus my brain enough to string together meaningful sentences.

This feels too big. There’s too much to say.

I say none of it.

(But don’t imagine from looking at me that there isn’t a whole book below the surface, thoughts on gratitude and regret and joy. Beneath my cover lurks an encyclopedia of what it meant — what it means — to be the mother of these good people. Great volumes in which I tell myself nothing has to change. Jack and Karly know we love them. This is their home. They can return for Thanksgivings and Christmases. Spring Breaks. Summers. Under this roof or any roof of mine, they are welcome. Forever.)

Nothing has to change. Everything will change.

Last year I tried to put the fog into words. My emotions this summer are no different, except both of my ducks are leaving the nest.

All of my ducks.

At least they’ll be together, which brings more peace to my heart than I can wrap my head around yet.

But I’ll have to. Soon.

Ready or not.

If you see me around town or on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, remember there’s probably a pit in my stomach. And a smile on my face.

Because this is the good stuff.



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17 thoughts on “Ready or Not: When You’re Facing the Empty Nest

  1. I’m thinking of you. I can’t even wrap my head around that sort of change yet, though I’m sure it will sneak up on me more quickly than I think. I love how you talk about them always knowing where their home is. Even in my mom’s “new” house, which isn’t where I grew up, I still feel like I can open the refrigerator and turn on the fireplace whenever I want. Home stays <3

  2. Diane

    You are both ready and not! You weren’t ready to be parents and you nailed that, you aren’t ready to be empty nesters and you’re going to nail that as well. Your ducks will be fine, you will be fine and I will be there to sooth your feathers!

  3. NannyK

    Those ducklings are awesome and ready! And you’re right that it’s GOOD! Pit or not…very good! And I’ll still be here…with ALL OF THE WINES…when you feel up to it❤❤

  4. I was just sitting here with my coffee and all the quiet, thinking about my younger son who lives in Orlando and whether or not he has power today. Then I came across your post in Facebook and my thoughts moved to his first college days, years ago. I was so proud of him then, and even more so today, if that’s possible. Now that I live close to my older son, he and his wife pop in now and then, and every single time I see his beautiful face, my heart swells. You have so much ahead, my lovely friend. So many proud moments to balance those quiet ones. So may feelings to feel. It’s just the beginning, really, and it’s going to be amazing! Enjoy!

  5. My kids are driving me crazy and I feel light years away from what you are going through and still, it made me cry. Saving a big hug for when I see you again.

  6. Kristi

    There are a few things that are a silver lining: less laundry, fewer groceries to buy, less cooking, more quiet in the house. That last one was the hardest, missing those sounds, whether it was hearing him unlock the door late at night, or murmur to the cats, or listen to hip hop in the shower.

    People will say this is good, it’s what we are supposed to do, and that is all true. My husband and I are reconnecting, and finding our way to each other again.

    The changes I have seen in my son in just one year away from us are all positive, and he is so very happy with his new life he has chosen. Which fills that hole in my heart a little bit. Yours will be filled too, as you have raised children ready to embrace all that life has to offer.

    Find a series to binge watch, stock up on wine and m & ms, plan a getaway with your husband. Be with friends. Your dogs will love all the extra attention they will receive.

    Hugs to you California friend!

  7. Oh, I have a pit in my stomach just reading this. I know it can’t be easy. I feel both like it’s so far away for us, yet it’ll be here before I know it. ❤️

  8. Laurel

    Sobbing. Your ducks. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  9. Love love love. You said so much here. My heart is full and it’s not about me! Love to you, Julie, and your beautiful family.

  10. Aw, Julie. You’re all so lucky to have one another and all that love. And what lucky Ducks are they, to have your nest to land in when they are weary.

  11. Oh, lady. Good gawd. Tears and marveling, all at the same time. So beautiful. So MUCH.

  12. Allison Kennedy

    I’ve been staring at the blank comment box for a while trying to think of the right thing to say– and I’m not sure there is a right thing– except maybe this– you did a wonderful job with those kids when (ready or not) they arrived 20 years ago and you will be amazing at this part too! They still need you- just in different ways.

    Oh, and Go Ducks!
    (So so happy about that)

  13. Love this piece, Julie. And love you. Your family is so (dare I say it) blessed (!) and so lucky to have so much love. And to have your two ducks at school together – how wonderful. Wishing you so much happiness and success and (even more) love at this next stage of your life. You’re gonna rock it! (After going through a few boxes of Kleenex of course.)

  14. Oh, Julie, I remember your post from last year, and now the second duck! OH MY. I’m at the other end of the spectrum, the low end, if you will, since my second, my son, just started full day kindergarten. He has started this new stage of his life, and there is no going back, and there is such bittersweet loss, and also joy. Like for you, and for me in the future. I’m so glad they are at the same school! That is kind of amazing and wonderful. But still. Holding you in my heart. Wish we lived closer!

  15. Maureen

    My heart is with you two. These transitions, life changes, new chapters, (whatever people call them) are not easy to accept. You have raised two beautiful children and have given this ability to be independent to fly. Sure you are also bursting with pride! I’ll be thinking about all of you!

    With Love,

  16. Major transition for SURE!

    And now you have extra time to write that emoji post we need!

  17. Well said! You captured all the feelings. Your children look wonderful- so handsome, pretty and vibrant. Exciting to see what this year brings for all of you!

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