A few months back I initiated a Facebook Challenge seeking an alternative to the depressing label, “empty nester”. For months as my son prepared to venture off for his college freshman year, I cringed, fought off tears and occasional anger each time someone asked “Are you going to be an empty nester?” “What are you going to do with yourself when the nest is empty?” “Your house will be so quiet and lonely, how are you feeling about that?”
A small part of me was scared and a much larger part ached with a gaping hole widening each passing day. I dreaded the looming mid-August date when he and I would board the plane. I mentally rehearsed my nonchalant “Goodbye, have a great year.” But to be honest, I found myself tearing up at unexpected times and assuredly when my thoughts drifted to returning to my hotel room without him then boarding the plane home by myself the next morning. Despite the inner dread, I was determined that staying busy and avoiding categorizing my new status as an empty nester were my best coping mechanisms.
Suggestions for the Facebook Challenge slowly trickled in. Replies such as “Freedom Parent,” “Independent Mom,” and even “Parolee,” did not spark the excitement or positivity I sought. I love word plays. When considering names for my business, I strove for a double entendre. I knew with patience, a name would strike where most of my creativity takes root, either on walks or in the shower. Sure enough, strolling home one day deep in introspection, I realized that I am and always have been a practical sort of person. Furthermore, sorting is a major part of my work. Thus, The Practical Sort was born. For my current challenge, I relied on those trusted venues for divine inspiration, and mid walk one summer morning, the idea bubble crystallized.
In keeping with the avian theme, my husband and I would be Freebirds. A free bird boasts zeal, confidence, freedom, and eagerness. This simple expression changed my outlook from gloomy to enthusiastic. Instead of moping in a quiet house, I am steadily building my fledgling business, networking, attending continuing education courses, practicing environmental stewardship, playing tennis, studying Tai Chi and Qi Gong, caring for aging parents, exploring the Northwest with my husband, and still being there virtually for my children. My kids haven’t stopped needing me or my help, just the execution has changed. Music or tv plays in the background when I am alone so that the house never seems quiet, although I do set aside a few minutes of solitude each day to regenerate.
A few weeks into my new status, I am soaring through this new phase of life discovering myself in ways not taken since my college years. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my kiddos terribly, and I eagerly await an upcoming trip to visit them, but I believe that they are proud of their mom knowing that I am living my life to the fullest just in a different way than they have known since their births.
The response to the Facebook Challenge answer was joyful especially among recently initiated Freebirds. I secretly revel in the confusion expressed by those inquiring how I am coping as an empty nester. I confidently respond “I am not an empty nester (pause to await their puzzlement), then proudly continue, “I am a Freebird.” Looks of concern melt into smiles. A loss has been flipped upside down. Many of my friends have embraced this exhilarating expression too. Welcome to the club Freebirds. Enjoy every minute of this beautiful phase of life!