Empty Nesters

Circa 2002. Last picture with my empty nesters in India at Shirdi, Maharashtra.

To all the parents who are going to be empty nesters, partial or delayed empty nesters because your grace period is now truly up, grandparents who’d see less of their grandkids or the siblings, and friends who were not looking forward for this separation, I know the feeling. Not because I am sending one off to college but I’ve been the one who couldn’t wait to leave home but was so bummed at the airport that I regretted having that feeling.

My parents’ process of being empty nesters was done in two phases. And it was my deliberate attempt to prepare them for the long haul, viz my emigration to the United States. While I studied out of state it was still an easy process because they had this feeling that I was accessible within 12 hours. Moreover, my father could just hop on a train and come visit me whenever either of us had separation anxiety or I had the need for parental intervention to my teenage crisis.

Both times it was a weird experience, because the least anticipated happened. My mother and grandmother not just started sobbing in turns but they stopped eating their normal portions. My father didn’t exhibit any emotion and I later learned that he bawled his eyes out for days. But when he dropped me off at college, his focus was to ensure that I am settled in the new place. With three huge suitcases worth of books, clothes, kitchen utensils and provisions for few months, I was ready to move on. My parents were not.

The second time, when I was coming to the United States was worse. My father started crying river and my mother was distraught. While it felt normal that my mother was in such shape, I realized that it was okay for men to cry. I felt so bad that I stopped breathing, turned my back to them and didn’t look back. It was not only a moment of realization on the void I was leaving for them but also one where I realized my greater responsibility of making them proud and start raising them in their old age.

My parents were older than most others because they were late in getting married and having me. After fulfilling their familial obligations, none of which they needed to, I was their culmination of love, hope and all desires. But when I was walking away at the airport, their heart was perhaps bleeding in ways that I could never imagine. And when I say I understand what parents might be going through dropping of their kids at college, I really do.

It is easy for anyone to advise empty nesters to look forward and spend more time on themselves not knowing the plethora of emotions they must be going through. As someone rightly said, “When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” So true.

Yet, there is always comfort in knowing that the the kids who’ve left their homes have a mission at hand to secure their future, our future and lead the way for many other who follow. Especially to turn nervousness of parents into pride and honor. They may fail along the way but they know it only leads to success. Just like the civilizations that preceded them. No matter how complicated and complex their lives were to become or how hard it must’ve been for their parents to keep them safe from life’s treachery, all will be well in the end.

Just like my parents paused, readjusted my absence, started looking forward to their own time and taking on new worries to get me married, I wish all those parents the best of new things. We all know it is not going to be easy but the birds must leave their nest and fly high. The hope is that all those going through this life promoting event, muster the strength, peace and love to transition. If a bewildered person like me could make her parents proud, I’m sure each of yours will make you magnanimously proud.

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