Empty Nesting


My friends, all concerned citizens, asked me, “Are you going to be okay with this?”

“With what?” I was deliberately obtuse.

“With, you know, him leaving home a year early.”

“Pshaw! It’s his decision! He wants a change!”

But he won’t be under your roof. It’s like paying for extra college – can you afford that? You won’t know where he is all the time. He’ll miss his friends. Haven’t you heard the stories? You have so little time with him as it is…

And so went the litany of reasons why I should be wary of sending my kid to boarding school, reasons that reflected their doubts more than my own. If anything gave me pause, it would be returning to public school where he had been, from the beginning, slotted in a groove resembling a rut, where the avuncular mantra was “Don’t worry, grades don’t matter,” or “Don’t hover, let them find their own way,” but always with the unasked, “So, what are you going to do about this?” This laissez-faire attitude allowed some students to drift along and phone it in – and who among the average boy isn’t a fan of that? Such glorious educational sentiments allow the swelling average to sag with the weight of “good enough.” And if your child is a line-toeing, self-motivated one, then bravissimo! But some kids want something else, and this is why he sought a small, all-boys boarding school where traditions and dress codes, expectations of excellence and tribal support would be the rule of the land.

So, no, I was not upset to drop him off at his new school. I did not weep. I did not cling – though he might disagree. I did not take pictures. I made his bed (as my dad had done for me) and did my best to leave him to it.

We, the dropping-off families, were invited to share a quick lunch where we could informally chat with some faculty and staff before returning home in our empty cars. The scene was a bright, bustling dining hall where classmates and teachers reconnected after the summer and new students mixed in. Thanks to social media, he already had a small cadre of campus friends, boys he knew from summer camp. Faculty said they were looking forward to meeting our son, they’d keep an eye out for him, get him down to the music lab, or encourage him to try a new sport. Looking around, we were confident that our son (who had already eaten lunch and disappeared amid a cloud of boys) was immersed in a cohesive, caring experience, one that we had wanted for him, to be honest, since the beginning. He had a steep learning curve ahead – but he was game.

Just twelve months earlier, a musing “what if?” regarding transferring to a new school, quickly became the all-consuming school application process of checklists and deadlines, essays and interviews, to say nothing of the harder-than-doing-your-taxes financial aid forms. With all that intensity successfully behind us, I thought there would be a giddy moment to catch my breath and begin those things I had wanted to do if only there had been enough time. But instead, a vague hollowness persisted.

About a week into my empty nest phase, I ran into the children’s librarian from our town. From our earliest visits to the cozy basement stacks, she had reliably suggested titles, always keen and unflappable behind her circulation desk. I felt nostalgic and wanted to express my appreciation to her for being there from our picture book days to Lemony Snicket and beyond. She must be used to this, after all, it is the very nature of her target population to mature and move on. She smiled and assured me that she remembered us. I indulged myself further and told her he was 17 years old now, away at school, all grown up… to which she replied, “Good luck with that transition!”

And this is where I find myself – in that transition. (Cue violins) Reflected in the changing seasons, we move from Summer’s exuberant activity to Autumn’s restful rejuvenation. My child-free routine advances on calm as the house grows quiet, the food bill shrinks, and the laundry becomes manageable. This is, at long last, the freedom I craved with the hoped-for burst of creative energy, surge of productivity, and realignment of purpose. But not so, not yet. I do miss him. I miss the reverberating footfalls, the clouds of cologne, the jokes. I think I’ll enjoy the slight ache for now but soon, very soon, I will get on with it knowing that he is stretching his mind, expanding his world, and growing in exactly the way we hoped he would.

To share this post: