That day you longed for is finally here: that day when you load up the car with matching sheets and fairy lights and compact refrigerators and the last of your children and then kick it over the side of your warren of twigs and hope that it will fly or something; I don’t know, I’m not a fucking bird.
For all I know, the whole notion of birds and their empty nests is bunk. Maybe the eggs hatch and the little birdlings just stay in there until they’re big enough to eat their parents. You think that’s the mommy bird, staring sadly over the rim of her nest after her babies have flown away, but maybe it’s just a big fat cannibalistic baby bird, watching the feathers of her parents drifting from her beak after a satisfied burp.
But I digress.
If you’re like me, you have spent the last 22 years being a stay-at-home mother, and you are now suddenly, thrillingly, bewilderingly retired. So you find yourself saying to yourself (because there’s no one left to talk to): Wait, Self. How does this empty nest thing work?
Fear not, for I have taken the wisdom gleaned over the entire two weeks I have now (mostly) spent without children to create a sort of instruction manual for getting through the emptiest parts of the empty nest syndrome. Forthwith: a list of Dos and Don’ts that should carry you through until your babies come back home to you (or eat you, or whatever).
First, and most important: the long days ahead don’t have to be meaningless, nor do you have to spend them at home, all alone. If you can’t get an actual job because you have no real skills/and/or you’re not terribly likable, do consider volunteer work. There are tons of organizations that would welcome your help for a couple of hours, until they get to know you.
But it doesn’t have to be all work. Do give yourself permission every now and again to just relax and maybe play a game. And then take that permission away because Word Cookies is a privilege, not a right, and if you can’t control yourself then you can just go straight to your room and think about more appropriate uses of one and a half hours of your precious time. Like Words With Friends.
Do make an effort to get out from time to time and buy your children little gifts, because if you can’t get a job and/or all your local organizations have asked you to volunteer to stay home, you’ll have no other way of interacting with anyone until your husband comes home from work because the neighbors aren’t speaking to you anymore since you wrote that thread on “Nextdoor Shadyside” about those idiot kids playing basketball in the street, and you have enough groceries, for fuck’s sake. You have seven different types of cheese in the dairy drawer. Short of trapping the mailman between your car door and the mailbox and engaging him in conversation about DACA, you’re now pretty much out of people to talk to during normal working hours. A little “Thanks, you have a nice day, too!” once or twice a week should be enough to keep you from pouncing on your spouse as he unlocks the door and verbally assaulting him with all the important observations you have had to keep to yourself the entire day, like “What is that smell I keep smelling over there?” and “So it got really hot today, but then I heard this thing when I opened the window, like a baby crying, except it was maybe more like a kitten in distress, or maybe a bird?”
Don’t buy a bag of Taco-flavored Doritos™ and try to eat your feelings. And definitely don’t buy three bags of Taco-flavored Doritos™, eat one and then hide two of them for when you need to eat your feelings later. You will find both of them almost immediately, even though you still have no idea where you put the key to the shed last week or that gift you bought for your mother-in-law, who has been dead for nearly a year.
Do make the most of your new-found free time by pacing aimlessly throughout your house. This not only boosts the number of steps that get recorded by your Fitbit™, but also allows you to discover things you’ve never noticed before, like where you hid the other two bags of Taco-flavored Doritos™. Bonus: if you pace while eating the other two bags of Taco-flavored Doritos™, you totally nullify the calories and—bonus bonus!–create a trail of crumbs that you can then sweep up, so that you will now have only four hours and seven minutes until you can text the children to tell them about that weird baby/kitten/bird sound.
But don’t text them too much. Do give your children enough space that they will want to reach out to you. Studies have shown that after two, maybe two and a half days of classes, they will wind up in the emergency room with a mild concussion after walking into a concrete pole, and you will get to spend some quality time with them, cradling their bruised heads while you chat about their classes and catch up on their new relationships and ask, for the tenth or twelfth time, “Are you sure you weren’t texting when you walked into the pole?” Try not to be upset if your child ultimately withdraws again, because this isn’t about you. Studies have shown that most medical personnel, hospital workers, security guys, and valet parkers have already asked her if she was texting when she walked into the pole; don’t take it personally.
Whatever you do, Don’t run out of episodes of a ten-season show you’ve been watching the entire summer. It’s bad enough that you’re out of children. But now you’re also out of X-Files. And the X-Files probably won’t need you to take them to the dentist next week, or meet you for lunch during a break in class. The X-Files are never coming back. Well, I mean, until they make that next season. But what if it’s also only six episodes long? Don’t start sobbing. Except for season 9, it was a pretty great show, but now it’s all grown up and you’re a strong and independent woman who’s been waiting three whole months to get her life back, so suck it up and move on.
And when your chicks finally do flutter back to the nest for their first visit home, do make sure to set aside time to have any of the important talks you forgot to have with them before they went away, like about sex, or alcohol. Be gentle, but firm. Tell them that, from now on, you won’t be answering any texts after 8 pm, because you’ll be drunk. When they blink and ask you whether that wasn’t always the case, tell them the truth: that you’re not sure.
Wait, don’t have the talk about sex. The kids have enough on their plates. If you don’t know how to do something, just Google.
Finally, do make sure to check in with your spouse to see how he’s holding up with this whole empty nest thing, because it affects him, too.
And if you can’t find him, do make sure to check the children’s beaks, for feathers.