This holiday season my youngest child is 15 years old, and while I've had a long satisfying parenting run, I've been feeling a little wistful these days because I feel her childhood and my role in it, coming to an end.
Everyone knows about empty nest syndrome. I never thought it would strike me. I've been waiting 30 years to have an empty nest. After a lifetime of nurturing I couldn't wait for the time when I didn't have to attend to the pressing needs of growing humans on a daily basis.
I know that parenting never ends - my 2 oldest are in their 20's, but it's a different kind of parenting when they become adults. It's more like advising. Listening, watching and just being available. You still worry, but for the most part they figure it out and do ok. And they do cool things all on their own.
I started parenting early at age 22, but I eased slowly into the bigger family thing. So, I never had 2 kids in diapers at once - or two kids in the same school. My 3 kids are 14 years apart, so my oldest didn't have a sibling until she was a kindergartner, and she was 14 when her youngest sister was born.*
This span has resulted in my experiencing 10 years as a high school parent. High school was long and hard enough when I was in it myself - but to watch 3 teenage girls go through what teenage girls go through in high school for what will ultimately be 12 years - well you can imagine the anxiety.
I'm so excited to see what Zoë does next, but what will I do the day she goes to college? I picture myself having the house to myself. Working late and not having to worry about picking her up or making dinner. Doing whatever I want on the weekends. But instead of feeling relief, the relief I was always sure I'd feel, I feel wistful. Maybe it's a grass is always greener thing?
But after parenting for so long, after being engaged in the most important thing any human can ever do - successfully nurture another human into adulthood- what will be the point of my life? Anything else I could possibly do would pale in comparison. And there are apparently NO grandchildren on the horizon. Sigh.
I've really been enjoying the 2 older girls as adults lately though. We have a group text in which we share funny stories and perplexing questions. They are both happy in their lives and careers. It's fun to watch them with their younger sister too. They are 3 Musketeer-like. The bond is strong and sweet. I am an observer of the sisterhood, but I still feel participatory because I'm still raising Zoë. Once she leaves, will I just be on the outside?
Maybe I'll finally think about finding a man and make everyone that's asked me about that in the last 10 years happy.
Yesterday, my oldest got engaged, and so it goes on, the cycle of family. They say they probably won't have kids, but who knows, really. It would be nice to have the fun of grandkids without the overwhelming responsibility of parenting.
Maybe I'll just get another cat.