Tale of the Empty Nester

Smearing butter on his toast with single-minded focus, he drops the bombshell, “Mum, I’m going to live with dad.”

The moment I’d secretly been dreading had arrived. The glass, coffee plunger I held slips from my grasp and shatters on the tiled kitchen floor. I fumble about for the dust pan and broom under the kitchen sink, and sweep up shards of glass and my broken heart. “When are you leaving?” I ask.

He stops crunching on his burnt toast to look at me, “I’m moving after the grad ceremony tonight. Dad said he’d help me.”

“Tonight?!” Horrified, I take a deep breath and plaster a fixed smile on my face “What are you taking with you?”

He mumbles something about clothes, laptops, new job and university but all I hear is my heart as it continues to split in a million pieces – I wonder if he can hear it too. My throat tightens and I squeeze back tears, ignoring the bitter taste in the back of my mouth, telling myself it’s for the best.

My last baby was leaving home, and I had nothing to fill the emptiness with. I look over to the letter rack and see the torn, food splattered page of his favourite recipe – tears well in my eyes.

Back in his room he opens his wardrobe and pulls out clothes, books, electronic gadgets, and bits and pieces onto the floor. God, was it so awful with me? He can’t wait to get out of here! I cry in my head.

He was ready for his new life, I wasn’t.

The front screen door slams shut and I hear plastic garbage bags being dragged along the cement path towards the bin. Alarmed I call out “Hey! What are you throwing out?”

“Stuff I don’t want.” he shouts back.

When he was newborn people described him as an old soul. I believe that. Wise beyond his years – and that grown-up humour that shows through unexpectedly, I shall miss our debates, his kindness, his slant on life.

I shall simply miss him.

After graduation I will be alone in a too big house for one, with only echoes of memories for companionship.

My urge to rummage through the green bags was strong, For Pete’s sake wait until he’s gone, so instead, I busy myself with doing nothing in particular.

Today is his high school graduation night. We pile into the car and drive to school, arriving at the school hall with minutes to spare. My eyes scan the crammed auditorium with its wall to wall families gathered together for a night of speeches, awards, and reflections. My imagination hijacks me and my heartache spirals deeper as I imagine these surrounding families head home with much backslapping at their superior parenting skills.

At last the ceremony is over and I see my son weaving through the crowd towards me. Clutching his award with his mile-wide smile, he hugs and kisses me, handing me his award for safekeeping.

“Sorry Mum, can’t stay – gotta go, bye!” and with that, spins around hurrying off to his new life and new home. There’s nothing left inside me. It’s just a huge hideous void of nothingness as I watch his retreating back disappear in a sea of families and school mates.

I arrive home numb with grief – sounds clichéd but that’s how I feel, and I sit on the well-worn couch in silence wondering whether plucking wings from flies was an option. Then I remember the garbage bags in the wheelie bin.

I trot outside and pull the heavy bags from the bin, dragging them back inside. I sort through the eclectic mix of contents in the lounge-room, Salty tears drop on his old magazines, unopened gifts, books, trinkets, calculators, stationery, and his Year 12 jersey. I blow my snotty nose and sort into ‘keep’ and ‘bin’ piles. The keep pile grows; barely an item makes the bin.

In his bedroom I straighten the crumpled quilt, with its sailing ships and cloudy sky, plump up the matching blue pillows, and howl bitter tears of loss and disappointment.

The time of the empty nester had arrived as it always would, and with it, my new normal.

Epilogue

Time is never static although it might feel like it, as the saying goes time waits for no man (or woman). Time doesn’t stand still, it continues to move and memories begin to fade into the background.

Months and years passed, new memories were created with family dinners and get-togethers, movie dates, new friendships formed and outdated ones left behind, there were white-knuckle driving lessons, and attendance at his university graduation ceremony.

I’ll be there for him one day in the future when it’s his turn to become an empty nester.