West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

The Empty Nest - What to Expect When They Leave

Kids, Personal, Reminiscing

“Mom, Mom, MOMMMMMMMMM!!!”

About 15 years ago, I practically heard this in my sleep. I admit it - it often drove me a little crazy.

But time does strange things. It heals wounds. It marches on. It makes you forget. It changes your perspective.

Today, I no longer hear that plaintive wail and, honestly, I kinda miss it. As of a few weeks ago, my husband and I are officially empty nesters. We have recently delivered our youngest child to a wonderful university more than 500 miles away in Nashville. Sigh.

Like many women, I couldn’t wait to become a mother. Our days as parents started pretty rough. But eventually, we figured things out. We had more children and we settled into the wild and crazy ride that is raising a family. Often, I was stressed and crabby and looked forward to the years when we wouldn’t need diapers or babysitters or permission slips.

We were clueless and so we read books: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect The First Year, What to Expect – the Toddler Years. Fast-forward to 2010 and suddenly we need a book called What to Expect When They Leave.

Nobody prepares you for doing what you’ve worked so hard to do – launch your child into the world. It takes YEARS of blood, sweat, tears, worrying, stress, dirt, poop, money, lunches, teacher conferences, report cards, volunteer requirements, playground duty, play dates, sleepovers, colds, fevers, fractures, driver’s ed., broken hearts, acne, prom dresses, homework and college applications. Along the way, it’s only natural to want to throw in the towel, but every parent’s eyes are on the prize – a child well raised. The dirty little secret is that it’s bittersweet to reach that finish line. Oh and the worry never ends. Nope. Never.

Here’s where I’m lucky: I married my best friend and 27 years of marriage haven’t changed that. Before kids, we talked for hours. While the kids were at home, I confess that I probably put them before him more often than I should have. Fortunately, I think he understood. And although he seemed a little wounded when I would lament over saying goodbye to our daughter, he knew that eventually, I’d get over it and would be able to move on.

So now, we’re beginning our next phase of life – the empty nest. Knowing that we’re prone to poor planning or lack thereof, we have an agreement: We take turns planning our weekends. Last weekend, we went to the movies, dinner, The Harley Museum. This weekend we’ve done dinner with friends, a neighborhood party and a Milwaukee Food Tour. We’re actually doing more than we have in years. Funny how that happens when you’re not arranging your schedule around a teenager that may or may not want to spend time with you.

I have friends without children or who are empty nest pros that probably want to roll their eyes at us. How hard could it be to do what you want when you want? Honestly, it’s more challenging than you think. Not to be overly dramatic, but suddenly, I have to rethink my purpose in life. I’ve spent the past 20+ years mothering. I can’t just stop doing that overnight.

And I’m not. When my husband and I are not out on the town rediscovering our likes and dislikes, I fully admit to worrying about our college freshman and the college graduate who lives even further away in Los Angeles. I anxiously await the day when they come home so we can hear about their adventures in the world.

But in the meantime, you’ll probably see us out and about. We might have a bit of that deer-in-the-headlights look, but eventually, that will fade…soon to be replaced by that quiet contentment that says: Hey buddy, we did it. It’s our turn to have some fun.


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