Someone sent me a somewhat suggestive text yesterday. Fun. Except… I totally missed it. Like a dumbass, I wrote back asking for clarification, missing the point. The poor person had to send back a winkie face to explain the joke. Less fun. I have gotten so dense and clueless about stuff like that.
It occurred to me then that the fun and flirty girl I once was (who would have caught that vibe in an instant) is gone for good. In her place is this woman who nags about turning off lights and picking up socks. Is that fun girl dead forever? And, if so, what will be there after once there is no more need for sock and light nagging?
The issue is front of mind because my kids are off to their annual trip abroad with their dad tomorrow. The first year that trip took place, pre-divorce but post-separate-bedrooms, I dropped them off at JFK airport and sobbed in the parking lot. (Then I went to Manhattan that same night to dance with an impossibly hot tango instructor named Santiago – no, I’m not completely dead). In the 8 years since then I’ve come to look forward to my weeks of single-girl freedom. (In fact, when I learned that the traditionally 3-week trip was to be shortened to 2 weeks this year I felt a smidge of disappointment).
But the difference is that a 3 (or 2) week stretch is just a vacation, a little hiccup in the rhythm of real life. When they started, it felt like it would be that way forever. But now that all these years have passed, I see them for what they are: rehearsals for the moment when my kids go off on their own for good. With my daughter turning 15 in a few months, I see the day speeding toward me.
I am not afraid of the empty nest. I was never one of those women who said things like, “I am my kids’ mom” or derived my identity solely from being a mom. I’ve never had a minivan or been class mom. (Okay, I was actually class mom a few times and soccer coach for many years, but you know what I mean. I never LIVED for it. I did it to feel better about my mothering and my lack of cookie-baking skills).
I’ve always had dreams of my own and have been very clear-eyed about how devoting myself to being a mother has meant taking the slower path to realizing some of my own ambitions. So I don’t think that the best part of my life will be over when my kids go off on their own. I don’t think everything that was important about me will disappear or that my mission will be meaningless. I just don’t know what, exactly, comes after. What will I do rambling around in a four-bedroom house with only one bedroom filled?
It’s not an uncomfortable feeling except for the fact that I hate not knowing stuff. I was worried about being divorced for the same reason: I wouldn’t miss the marriage but didn’t know what it would be like after it. Now, five years later, I love everything about post-marriage life. I love the freedom. I love charting my own course. So I have a model for this type of major transition. I just haven’t learned to love the blank page without wanting to scribble all over it.