Back to School? Nope…

Typically, Labor Day Weekend marks the official end of the summer. In Atlanta, however, it’s already over. As of this week, kids went back to school. The traffic, once again, is horrific.

On my way to work, I have to pass three schools before I get to the highway. This route regularly reminds me of the irrational, emotional, judgmental bias I have against minivan-carpooling-moms. If I’m to be honest though, sincere introspection suggests that there’s more going on with me at the moment than frustration over the “Back to School” fuss and commotion. This school year is the first in almost twenty-two that I don’t have a child heading off to school; not to preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, or even college. For all the years I wondered, “Will this EVER end?”… Well, I now have my answer. Yes, it’s officially over. My baby graduated college in May, moved away (to join her brother in Chicago), and starts her very first, real, “big girl” job today.

It’s truly amazing how much time and attention these many years of school demanded. Yearly we dealt with new teachers, classmates, and sports schedules. We helped with homework, edited papers, and contributed to special projects. We juggled family vacations around Teacher Work Days and winter, spring, and summer breaks. We attended orientations, teacher conferences, and special events (like plays, recitals, etc.) The academic calendar – and our two kids – controlled and governed our daily lives. Well…no more!

As a mother, I did everything I thought I was expected to do (although I admit I could have cooked more!). I handled the annual physicals; filled out and returned every single form that was brought home; got everyone to wherever they had to be on time; made sure that sports uniforms and school clothes were laundered on a timely basis; was awake, available, and “present” whenever I was needed; blah, blah, blah. I did it all – despite the fact that I worked full-time. Every day I did what I could to prepare my children to embrace the reality of life. And now, thank goodness, they are doing just that. I feel grateful, happy, and relieved.

So what now??? I always scoffed at the concept of the “Empty Nest Syndrome,” but I now understand it better. According to Wikipedia, “Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents or guardians may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university…This can result in depression and a loss of purpose for parents, since the departure of their children from ‘the nest’ leads to [challenging] adjustments in parents’ lives.” Stereotypically this condition most affects “stay-at-home” moms who tend to lose their sense of purpose when the kids leave home. However, as a mother who always worked outside the home – pursing different careers – I find that I too am impacted by changes in familiar routines and patterns of living. I feel kind of sad and blah. I avoid going into the kids’ bedrooms. I already miss the tremendous influence my children had on keeping me grounded and focused.

Thanks to a healthy marriage and a good sense of self, I look forward to filling our newfound leisure time with new endeavors – uninterrupted time for us to explore, travel, reconnect with family and friends, and try new things. Maybe I’ll enroll in an art class…take up the guitar again…learn to dance…become a fitness nut…plan and take exotic vacations…

More importantly, however, I want to establish a new relationship with my young adult children. What that will entail, I don’t yet know, but I’m confident that all-expenses-paid family vacations may be in order.

For now, I can’t wait to hear how my daughter’s first day at work was…

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