The kids have been gone all week at Phantom Ranch Bible Camp in Mukwonago, WI. It has been a while since both of our kids have been gone for this long of a period. (In fact I can't say for sure that they ever have been away from home for a full week like this.) It has been a good week, a quiet week, a week where Donna and I have had a taste of what it will be like when they have both gone off to college. While this sounds like everything everyone hopes for and wishes for, I'm not so sure I'm ready for the deafening silence that will take over our house when that happens.
Which is funny, if you think about it. When we were in the trenches of parenthood, we longed for our "alone time," or, on the really bad days, for our "old life." Diapers, formula, nap times, tantrums, and physical needs take a toll on a person. There were days I never thought we'd be past it. Then, like a flick of a switch, they're looking at colleges, and driving, and talking about shaving.
Wait a minute, where'd those middle 10 years go?
When you're in it day to day, growing up and growing old just happens and you don't realize it, or maybe even appreciate it. You send them to school, trudge to work yourself, cut the lawn, take out the garbage and the next thing you know you're 50 and looking at college for your kids and not yourself. It's mind boggling. Maybe it's more a shot to the head because of what's happened in my family in the past year and a half. Or, maybe it's just my age showing, or God knocking me around and saying "Hello, time is short here, big guy. Whatcha doin' about it?"
I was at a pre-retirement seminar a couple of weeks ago and there was a psychologist there who talked to the group about the "emotional aspects of retirement." Of course I poo pooed the idea that there would be any emotional impact on me when the time comes, but that has changed a bit after this week. You don't really realize the role you play as a father when all the kids are at home, until they leave. They are as much a part of my identity and my routine as they are of my wife. Different roles for sure, but I think their absence has left a hole in me as big as in her.
So when the time comes for them to go off to college, all I ask is that you ask how I'm doing. Because as much as you want people to think you're doing fine, it's going to be an adjustment and the pyschologist was right. Don't discount the radical change that an empty nest will bring. Add to that a side dish of retirement and its going to take a bit of getting used to. Until then, I aim to appreciate my kids being around as much as I can. Teenage eye-rolls, "whatever's", ignored dinner calls and other annoyances are all part of it. I have a better appreciation for the role they play in my life now. Besides, it beats the heck out of diapers and formula.