The XX Factor

My Nest Runneth Over

It is not easy to stop being somebody’s mommy, but there comes a time when your kids are done. The five-year-old gets on that damn carousel and only two or three horses go up and down before she has a tattoo and a boyfriend. Mimi Swartz in her Double X Empty Nest column wonders how she will restart her life as her son Sam transitions away to his own adult life. Over the next few months she writes that she will explore the burning question, What the hell is she going to do with herself now ?

In her first essay, Mimi mentions a family therapist and includes psychotherapy in her hobbies, but I suggest she also consider lowering the volume and increasing her medication during this family shift. When my son graduated high school three years ago, I started writing again. Nevertheless, I was so conflicted to see my baby leave the nest, I metaphorically alternated between shoving him out the door and locking him in the basement. When my daughter left our Washington home, I missed her like crazy, but she called all the time, and that’s how I got through it. That and having a toddler. When the former toddler finally started assembling his own tiny twigs in San Francisco, he ignored my e-mails, text messages, and cell phone calls. This is pretty normal behavior, I understand, but it drove me crazy. His silence was the only thing I talked about for months. A friend with three grown sons once assured me, “you can only raise a boy so far,” until “some girl comes along and finishes the job.” As I wait impatiently for someone to step up to complete Nate, I notice he has started to morph into a man on his own.

Meantime, you keep providing support. We get hooked on their need for us at their first hungry cry. My daughter was already an adult, with some respectable achievement under her belt, before I stopped looking for ways to be useful to her professionally and personally. When I complained how hard I’d worked to lend a hand on one project, she reminded me she hadn’t asked for my help. Rachel was glad for my aid, but she didn’t need it. “I’m pretty competent,” she said “you taught me.” She appreciated that I often got good results though, so, she cautioned, “I won’t say no to you. … If you offer to do something for me, I’ll let you.”

I had just had my first writing piece accepted by the Washington Post when she and her co-director were screening their first documentary at the Maryland Film Festival . I arrived at the theater as the local Baltimore news crew was interviewing the two excited directors. My daughter was so happy to see me she gave me a big hug before asking, “Mom, could you watch our purses?”

However Mimi Swartz and other newly childless mothers cope with having baby adults in their lives, the real challenge will be to the new selves they fashion from what remains. We are middle-aged women with aging parents, tired legs, and husbands who wonder if we’ll ever cook again, but there are perks. We keep learning and have new victories. Our experience as managers, policymakers, and problem solvers will provide years of satisfying new adventures. A woman friend I met when our sons were in ninth grade together ran for office the year our boys graduated. She was the mom who wore a school cap and organized team snacks. She now wears one of the best accessories in D.C.: a gold lapel pin with the seal of the U.S. Congress. Capitol Hill police at House entrances wave her past the metal detector. No one asks her about her empty nest.