There’s no socks scattered on the living room floor or in between the sofa’s cushions. I open the refrigerator and can actually see my food, and the cream cheese I bought yesterday is still there. When I clean our kitchen counter, it doesn’t fill up within a day with papers, plates, my son’s computer, assorted cups and someone’s t-shirt. The washing machine is enjoying a relative vacation, as is the dishwasher. Yup, it’s emptynesting 2.0, second verse same as the first from a year ago.
Within the last week, both our sons moved out, one to Madison, WI, and the other five miles into town to a K.U. scholarship hall. Last year at this time, I was reeling in waves of grief, relief, and worry. This time, I have my feet up and have seen three movies in the last four days. A year ago, I fretted over my sons leaving, especially Forest, who had never not lived with us, and despite his insisting I didn’t need to, I just had to unpack all his clothes for him in his new room. This year, I told him I couldn’t help him move because I had a massage, so he should take his car and do it himself.
At the Power of Words conference in Maine held Aug. 12-14, a few days before the second exodus of sons began, a friend reminded me that a year before, in a storytelling and grief workshop, I told her how I said I was an animal losing part of its animal self. “I felt that way?” I asked her, amazed what a year could do. True, I’m sad to not have the guys here despite them ruining my kitchen, waking me up with loud videos and louder laughter at 2 a.m., and dipping clothes, paper and dirty dishes everywhere. But it feels more like the natural order of things although the natural is a lot of ricochet: they leave, they come back, they leave again. We arrive in the new normal, we regress, we progress again, all the time circling that old journey of our bones that leads us far and back home again.
Yesterday I re-watched one of my favorite documentaries, Buck, about Buck Brannaman, who teaches people all over the country about how to work, live, and thrive with their horses. He shows how to use respect, gentleness, and our energy with loving intent to avoid any sense of forcing or breaking horses. For years, I felt like I was learning the same with my kids although I surely failed a thousand times, then began again a thousand times. I’m not saying my kids are like my horses that need to be trained to haul me around, but being a parent is so much about teaching your kids how to connect deeply with their horses — their lives — so they can launch into that beautiful dance between who they are and how they live. Actually, it’s probably the reverse, and our kids are the ones training us. In any case, happy trails to us all until we meet again.