I’ve always considered myself a loner, so I was surprised to realize that I’ve never lived alone. In two months, though, it will be just me, and I’m not as happy about it as I thought I would be. When I first imagined the empty nest, I envisioned sipping champagne while soaking in a lavender bubble bath with a cucumber masque restoring my skin—with the door wide open and “my” music resounding throughout the apartment. Just me doing what I want. No critical, dismissive teen around. No man whose needs I cater to more than my own. I thought that I would have my own little resort spa, Casa Laura. But before I even had a chance to run my bath, I discovered that I’m not elated.
The empty nest marker signals the end of too much for it to be only about celebration. For almost thirty years I have cared for my loved ones. It’s not that I defined myself by the stuffing I made and the carpools I drove, but I did. How could I not? Sure, I’ve always been something else besides partner and mother, and I’ve always identified myself by my writing and my work, but whoa, this is like having an integral part of my identity being torn from me. A mental hysterectomy.
Am I ready to be just me? It seems so bare. So alone. How will I perceive myself? Obviously, I’m still a mother, but if no child is living in my house on a permanent basis, I need to create a new perception of who I am in relation to my daughters.
I can remember the day when the switch from active to supportive-back-burner mom occurred: the day my younger daughter got her own car. Up to then, the process of not being needed was so gradual as not to disturb my hormones, especially because there were always the driving duties to keep me in the need-loop. But, wow, when she could drive herself and not have to coordinate the car usage with me, I was released from an essential part of what being a mother has meant to me. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t revel in her independence, but it’s an empty independence. Gone were the talks in the car; gone, too, were the sullen silences, but, still, we were together.
Which means that I’ll have more in common with my widowed, retired mother than with my daughters. They are striding into their lives, while I am heading to a spot on a bench, next to my mother.
Oddly, the more I think about it, the more I feel ready to be just me. Over the last year and a half of her driving herself, and the year since Kenny left, I have been able to do what I want, no excuses or blame. I have gotten together with friends, and have spent or wasted my time as me and my pocketbook have allowed. I have been becoming the woman I am meant to be. Active motherhood is a thick layer in the lasagna of life, not the whole pan.
This summer, while my daughter is still here, I have plans of my own: I took a class for work last week, and I’ll teach a writing class for a couple of weeks. I’m also going away for a weekend with two friends and taking a woodworking class (which I’ve wanted to do since I had to take Home Ec and sewing in junior high school and not shop like the boys). It occurs to me that I have already started the transition from “mommy and me” to “girls’ night out.” I’ve been making decisions based on my needs and wants, not strictly theirs, but what is essential for my understanding of myself and my relationship with my daughters is that I still want to give and give and give, but they, rightfully, no longer want to live on the receiving line.
I can’t know what stages the relationship with my daughters will go through as they live their lives. What I now realize is that I won’t be an onlooker to their lives, because I will be on a parallel track: watching them and participating in my own race. Who knows? Maybe they’ll want to glance over every once in a while and see what I’m doing.