In a little over 1,700 days, I will stop being the me I currently am and start being a new me. What she will look like or how she will fill her days, I have no idea. But the countdown has begun.
My youngest, currently an 8th grader, will go off to college in the fall of 2019 (if all goes well), those scant 1700 days from now. If it seems silly to you to start the countdown now, you’re probably right. But I’m a planner. And, also… well, yeah, I don’t like surprises. I like to live on purpose. So I want to be prepared.
Much has been written about empty nest syndrome. I even have a friend who is writing a whole brilliant blog about it, with much more cred than I have since her three kids have actually really gone off to college and not middle school. But since my oldest has started high school, I see shades of what will come later. With her packed social schedule and only occasional desire to be in my company, she has already started the process of leaving. They were five years younger five minutes ago. I know this will go fast.
I am not the woman who will miss intensive mothering. I lack a knack for it and I have not found it especially rewarding. I love my children madly, of course, but have not found identity in my cookie recipes and my class mom-hood. My mothering gestures have been fueled more by a sense of duty and a specter of failure, my mind flashing to the prison visits I’ll have to work into my schedule in the future if I don’t drive a whole brood of smelly boys to soccer practice. I have done a lot of it because it’s what you do.
And, yet, despite its lack of charm, there is no denying that mothering has shaped me more than any other single thing in my life. It taught me that sometimes you have to do the very thing you least want to do – clean vomit at 3:00 a.m., be loving with a shrieking tyrant, make food when you want to take a nap. It’s made me dig in deep to find untapped reserves, like magical wells drilled in the most arid deserts. It’s given me astoundingly brilliant moments of pleasure, unexpected, pure, piercing, in a smile or a crayoned sentiment. It’s made me a grown-up. It’s aged me into the jowly creature that gets ribbed for my old person taste in music by the kids who are the age I still feel inside.
So I look at the 1728 day plan not with sadness or trepidation, but wonder. In 1728 days, there will be nothing and no one to keep me here in New Jersey. Sure, they’ll come home on weekends. Maybe they won’t even dorm away at all. But they’ll be adults, responsible for their own paths. And it will be just me again.
Perhaps because I’m currently reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, about her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, I am filled with a desire to plan a great, big, year-long ramble once they go. I’ve imagined I would even when they were babies. This 2019 date has been alive in my mind for over a decade. At first I used to imagine it would hold the simple things I couldn’t get when they were little – naps and massages. Then it became a fantasy about a summer spent in Siena painting. But now simple pleasures are not as hard to come by as when I was a put-upon young mother. I haven’t taken that painting class in Siena, but I’ve traveled and painted plenty.
The yearning now is deeper, bigger, a desire for an adventure. I’ve thought of going to study with three shamans – one in Peru, one in Africa, one aboriginal healer in Australia, spending a year learning about plants and bugs and spirit. I’ve thought about trying some known feat – sailing across the Atlantic alone, or biking to South America. I’ve thought about building a little shack and living Unabomber-style in the woods, just me and my notebooks (sans the bombs, of course). Will I be brave enough to do any of these things? Financially secure enough to walk away from my day job? Crazy enough to try?
I don’t know. All I know today is that the things that currently rule my life – their schedules and their wants and their financial requests – are set to change in a scant 1728 days, give or take a month. And my life will be neatly handed back to me, like a folded flag, changed forever. What will I do with it? I wonder all the time.