When our last child married and moved into her own apartment, when friends, acquaintances and family realized we were now officially empty-nestors, they would ask, "What are you going to do now?"
Now is such a relative term.
Tony and I would usually look at each other in a muddled sort of way. It's not like the children were, or the last child ever was a ball and chain of which we were suddenly snipped free.
So our inquisitors would push the question by offering a few suggestions of their own, "Bullet bikes? Travel? Work? Career changes? What's going to be different?"
Though the day of reckoning was always upon us, we never gave it much thought. Intentionally. I'd heard of happy mothers who'd turned miserable and lonely when their children went off to college, married, or took jobs in far away places, and I was leery enough of that moment, to adopt (in the classroom), 70 other children when my last one left.
Now that the last child has been gone for ten months, I have enough hindsight to see how things changed and stayed the same.
Tony went on a mad organization extravaganza. He ten-upped the white tornado. He rearranged and took over closets previously used by those precious children. Tony's winter clothes found their way to Paloma's closet. The back entry closets once used to sock away children's paraphernalia were cleaned and became luxury compartments for gloves, biking gear, and hats. It's a storage paradise!
At first, I horribly missed the children, but as time passed, we moved into a seamless way of life. The kitchen stays clean, the scissors are always in their place. Scotch tape is abundant. Dinner times are flexible or non existent. We will never set another curfew, fill out another chore chart, nag them to be on time for school. No incessant reminders to do the dishes, to change the car oil, to put their shoes away. No more waiting up until the last child makes it home at 1:00 a.m. We have no schedules to meet but our own, and our own are very simple. After decades of family devotion, we are done, and as the days pass, it becomes bliss.
We did our best and the best moved on--like they are supposed to.
Though our responsibilities certainly have changed, we've found that children never go away. Thank goodness. Neither does the desire to help, to care, and the inevitable worry disappear. Ever. The responsibility does however, diminish.
After the last wedding, as I packed my suitcase, and prepared the house for the after-wedding-parent vacation, I realized no one would be home to water the plants. No one to finish the avocados or the peaches still in the fridge. No one to bring in the mail or bring in packages from the porch. I'd been thinking that parenting was all give and no take, but as usual, parenting is not always one way or the other.
I knew the shift was complete just two days ago, when our baby came home for the afternoon. Usually, we drop everything and treat our child-guest like royalty. But this day, I couldn't drop my plans, and Tony and I carried on in our responsibilities. It was a slight disappointment for all. She left sooner than expected without much fanfare.
Ten months later, no one asks us anymore what we're going to do now that the children have moved on; there's no need--the transition is complete.