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A taste of empty nest syndrome

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“We never get to see you anymore,” I say to my son with more than a hint of Jewish guilt. “When will you have time for us?” PIXABAY PHOTO
“We never get to see you anymore,” I say to my son with more than a hint of Jewish guilt. “When will you have time for us?” PIXABAY PHOTO

“We will not have you treating this house like a hotel,” my mother informed me sternly. I was 17 or 18 years old at the time and filled with the wanderlust that comes with new independence. My diary was jam packed with social activities – people I needed to see, gossip to be exchanged, boys to be admired and parties to attend. Home was a convenient place to take a shower, get some rest and have a good meal.

But the last thing I wanted was to share a cup of tea with my parents, exchange news or find out what was troubling them. I remember scoffing haughtily at the very idea that I considered our house a hotel. My mother’s suggestion that I spend more time at home seemed so demanding, so unrealistic. I was young and deeply engaged with youth. Home was just a place to recharge my batteries before heading out into the world again.

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I’m older now, and in my parents’ shoes as I watch my home become a hotel for my son. Almost 16, he’s fiercely independent, a social organizer who gathers people around him and arranges fun activities when he’s not studying for school, training for a bike race or working his weekend job at the fish and chips restaurant down the road. As we witness the pace of his schedule accelerate each weekend, my husband and I look at each other in disbelief.

“We never get to see you anymore,” we lament with more than a hint of Jewish guilt. “When will you have time for us?”

It’s weird to hear my parents’ words come so easily from my own mouth.

For sure, we’re intensely proud of him. Somehow – and we don’t know what we did right – we raised a kid who is ready to take on the world. Full of adventure, fun and street-smarts, our son is confident, charismatic and engaging. He’s the kid who willingly vacates a seat on the subway for a senior, who helps mothers carry their strollers down the stairs. He’s doing just what he’s supposed to be doing, and though he’s a few years away from moving out, our nest has begun to empty as his independence gathers momentum.

Intellectually, we knew it would happen. We just didn’t know the moment would come so quickly, and that we’d feel so bereft when it arrived.

We’re deeply ambivalent about the hole left by his diminishing physical presence in the house. The only sacred evening when we know for sure he’ll be with us is Friday night’s Shabbat dinner, but it’s no longer safe to assume he’ll join us on a Sunday family hike or a Saturday night dinner at friends’ homes. His time is his own now, his schedule is packed from dawn to midnight, and even when he’s home, his attention is diverted to a screen where the socializing continues in textual form.

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The transition from boy to adult happened overnight it seems, and though his siblings occupy a good chunk of our time and attention, we didn’t know how much we’d miss this young man’s constant presence, or the sadness that would tug at our insides when he’d choose his friends’ company over ours.

We know this is how it’s meant to be. You raise ’em, you try to instil strong values and then you let ’em fly, hoping, praying they won’t crash. Still, you’re never prepared for the emotional fallout of watching them spread their wings and leave the nest.

University is two years away, so there’s still time to get used to the idea that his days in the family home are numbered. But how it aches to see those wings practise for flight. When the time comes, I’ll be sobbing in the corner, mighty proud, but missing him with a longing I could never have imagined.

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