Recently, I ran into an old girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while at a wedding. Her youngest son had just left for college, and she tearfully told me how quiet her house was.
And all I could think was: Oh, you dear sweet flaxen-haired newb. You have no idea the glory that awaits you.
I’ll be honest. Obviously, I love my kids. But I’d been waiting for my moment of peace and quiet and rest since I realized two decades ago that I’d be responsible for three meals a day for two disinterested people for the next 18 years. And my work, if done well — cooking, cleaning, shopping — would be largely invisible. Great! Sign me up.
An empty nest meant I’d no longer have to remind people to shower every day, brush their teeth, and put on pants. Grown people with large amounts of facial hair and cologne collections. Oh sure, I tried to model good adulting behavior for those almost 7,000 days we lived together; my own Tao of Orderliness: the rinsing of the dirty dish, the making of the rumpled bed, the washing of the grubby linens. Did these life lessons stick? No, they did not. One child went an entire college semester — perhaps longer — without changing his sheets.
By the time the youngest moved out, I needed a nap. Like a close-the-blackout curtains, turn up the noise machine, wake-me-only-if-the-house-is-on-fire, weeklong slumber. I was exhausted. Rest was needed to prepare for the next chapter of my life: Party Time Central, Empty Nest Edition.
Rather than feeling sad or nostalgic, I woke up excited for this new season of life. To be honest, I was mainly looking forward to being able to go to Chick-fil-A and not take three other people’s orders before I got in my car or, more likely, pull over somewhere to eat mine secretly and then dispose of all evidence.
I wanted to tell my friend that she had so much to look forward to. Picture this: You can take a bubble bath any time and not worry that the hot water ran out because someone took an hour-long shower again. You can sleep with your bedroom door open because no one will be turning on kitchen lights or making thunderous noises after you’ve gotten in bed. You can go to bed early — like 10:00! — because you don’t have to monitor anyone else’s schedule.
Snacks won’t be gone within 24 hours. Dishes won’t disappear upstairs and return fossilized three days (or three months) later. Clothes won’t be forgotten in the washer, and then the dryer, and then on the sofa, for days on end. You won’t be asked what’s for dinner and met with silence every day of your life. You won’t have to cook, maybe ever again. You can eat cookies for dinner because you don’t have to set an example anymore.
It’s like winning the lottery — only instead of money, you win time to read a book.
I began to weed out closets, take impromptu trips, and eat meals whenever I wanted. The game room, once cluttered with errant clothes and gaming devices, became my private little nook with a fresh coat of paint and some new throw pillows.
My husband and I did little things, like using cloth napkins, and big things, like taking a weeklong road trip to the Grand Canyon in April. APRIL, when school was still in session.
Which is not all to say that I’m a heartless monster. When my oldest son got his first grown-up job and recently moved into his first grown-up apartment, I spent a day or two cleaning his bedroom out.
It was all going swimmingly until I pulled out his old yearbooks and put Green Day’s “Good Riddance” on repeat (don’t let the title fool you, this song can make a grown man cry). I spent the afternoon looking at his life in pictures, from kindergarten — when he rode his bike to school with training wheels so he could park it in the big kid bike rack — to his senior year.
I felt an avalanche of gushing emotions that I’m glad no one could see because it wasn’t pretty. I hoped he’d had the time of his life. Because I sure did. Twice.
I love both my kids, but this time in my life — finally — is about me. The laundry room is empty, there are no shoes in the middle of the floor, and I’ll be eating a fabulous dinner at 4:00. Reese’s peanut butter cups, table for one, here I come.
Courtenay Rudzinski is a freelance writer based in Houston, where she lives with her husband and two rescue pups. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Insider, Well+Good and Next Tribe. Find her on Instagram @courtenayr.