So I have been an “empty nester” for exactly one week.

So far, it totally sucks.


I do not like it one bit. I am irritable and difficult–I admit this. Something feels off balance, and I am appalled by my own crankiness.  After looking around the dinner table last night, I burst into tears and stormed out of the house to walk around the block, sobbing. Mostly because my husband “set” the table for the two of us (and a ridiculously large pot of spaghetti–I don’t know how to make just a little bit of anything!) by shoving the clutter (which included a bottle of Armor All, piles of junk mail, an ancient instamatic camera and dictionary (!)) to one side and putting plates down on the other. I looked at my children’s empty chairs, the place where their plates ought to have been piled with clutter. I may have said (or shouted) something like, “there’s supposed to be people here, not CRAP!”

(It must be noted that there were other factors causing said tears. One of which was my husband totally getting underfoot, in my way, as I tried to make dinner. Some empty nesters get a puppy—I have absolutely no need of one as my husband is generally behaving like one. But I digress.)

I saw this coming, I know. And it’s not like raising kids has been my only vocation for the past twenty years. I work full-time. I have interests and obligations beyond my home and children. But it’s still crazy hard.

Let’s add to all this, speaking of puppies, that my dog passed away a few weeks before my youngest went off to college. I know. It’s just a dog. A sweet dog, whom I treated like a third child, for more than a decade. If you don’t have a dog, just shut up. And no, I do not want a new puppy.

jack and me

Oh, and I lost the full-time full-time freelance gig I’ve had for the last year and half. The very same week my son went to college. So make that, I did work full-time. Until quite recently.

Which leaves me with no dog, no children, no job and a clingy husband who is absolutely in denial about his clinginess. To call it a season of loss feels like understatement, and yet, ridiculous. I’m healthy. My kids are fine–thriving, in fact (they’re just 200o miles away). I’ve already found new freelance projects. I’m fine. I’m fine. Really. I have so much to be grateful for. Which just makes me feel guilty for feeling even mentioning that this is kind of hard.

As I said, the empty nest is no picnic. To me, it has been a time of tremendous loss and grief, coupled with an odd sense of freedom. I do not have to be anywhere for anyone, sign anything for anyone (except those tuition checks, of course). But the emptiness gives me the chills. And I really am trying to figure out what to do with that. This is a phase of parenting I was totally not prepared for.

My friend Tim Fall says the “empty nest” is a misnomer because the two of you are still there. Tell me about it. It seems like no matter where I go in this nest, there’s this person that I have been too busy to pay attention to for the last twenty years, who is now the only person to talk to, following me around. Tim says he and Liz are “spacious nesters, because we’re still here for crying out loud!“) but it doesn’t feel spacious to me, especially with this person (my husband) constantly in. my. space.

I turn to busy-ness, inventing new projects since I am unemployed (I re-did my website and self-published one of my out of print books this week, for starters). I run—I figure physical exertion might help me process the stress. (How many miles until I outrun the pain? I’ll let you know when I get there.) In the afternoons, I try to go shopping and realize, there is nothing in the store that I want. In the evening, I pour myself a glass of wine, sit on the couch, and try, quite unsuccessfully, to lose myself in a good book. I am unmoored, on a new journey, unsure of the way.

run in Cuba Marsh

Are you an empty nester? I’d love to hear how you dealt with this particular leg of life’s journey.