Early in February, on the way to a UP College of Law reunion, my friend, fellow law alumnus and fellow Antipolo resident Eric Santos and I drove through Global City. I told him how much I liked the way the community was planned and laid out. I wouldn’t mind living there, I said, as it would be so convenient to be near everything – supermarkets, hospital and shops.
Why, he asked, tired of the suburb? Not really, I said, but imagine how empty the house would be when both my daughters were done with college, immersed in their careers and possibly living elsewhere on their own. Ah, he said, the proverbial empty nest. His own children being just a few years younger than mine, he agreed it was a thought worth entertaining – this idea of moving back to the city when we’re empty nesters.
As things would turn out, my nest turned out half-empty much earlier than I thought. The school year has started for many students. For my younger daughter, Alex, an incoming high school senior, school starts next week. For my older girl, Sam, a college freshman, school started in the third week of May. But this school year is different from all others my family has known. For the first time, there is no school bus to pick up Sam. She stays in a rented condo during weekdays and we don’t get to see her until the weekend.
Because Alex is still on her summer break, we still go through this routine of me knocking on her bedroom door to call her downstairs for lunch. There was one time, a few days after Sam moved to the condo, when it completely slipped my mind that she was in the city three hours away, and I knocked on her door to tell her that lunch was ready. I opened the door, it was spic and span, and no Sam. And the reality of the situation hit me so hard that I was momentarily stupefied.
In another year, it is possible that both my daughters will be living elsewhere during weekdays. What would it be like for me? The empty days won’t be such a problem for my husband who goes out to work everyday. But I who work from home… What will it be like not to prepare packed lunch for anyone, not to anticipate the arrival of the school bus before sundown, not to hear what happened in school while munching on afternoon snacks? And I’m already partially living the scenario with Sam away five days a week. We talk everyday on the phone but it’s not the same.
Will I become one of those depressed women who cast teary-eyed glances at the bedroom doors down the hall? I’m a writer and they say that writers are lone wolves. The loneliness shouldn’t bother me. In fact, the more I think about it, the more certain I am that like any negative-sounding situation, an empty nest can be transformed into a positive experience. For me as well as for my girls because I don’t want to turn into a clingy aging mother who gets her kicks by living vicariously through her children. I’d love to be part of their adventures but they will embark on adventures that will not include me. It’s just the way things are. They will have to live their own lives. It’s not something I should resent but, rather, something I should be happy about because it means they are learning independence and I did not fail as a mother.
I’ve seen aging women wasting away after their children have left home, gotten married and had their own families. And this is especially true with women who did not have active careers. I’ve seen how my grandmother spent years staring out the window, watching the vehicles and the pedestrians on the street much like watching the world go by but not really being part of it. I’ve seen women spend days playing mahjongg with others just as lonely as themselves to deal with the emptiness.
I will not be anything like them. A woman’s life does not end after the years of active motherhood. I will still be me with as much right to live out the rest of my life as productively as I can. And how I live the empty nest stage ought to serve as an example to my daughters as well. If I show them how much productive a mother can be in her children’s college and post-college years, I’ll be guiding them as well to be just as productive when their turn to be empty nesters come.
So, I prepare. If, for the next couple of years, the girls are only home during weekends, then, I can spend the weekdays traveling and exploring and writing about my experiences. My daughters’ college years just might prove to be the best time and opportunity for me to gather materials for the two books that I’ve always dreamed of writing. And when my husband retires, we can travel together and spend the next several years getting to know one another all over again. Like a never ending courtship and honeymoon.
Who says an empty nest has to be lonely? It shouldn’t be for anyone who knows how to enjoy life.