It’s full on empty nest time in our home and I’m in a quandary as I work on figuring out what to do with all the extra time. Before ENT (empty nest time), each day used to start with a cleaning sweep around their upstairs bedrooms and bathroom as I cleared out all the water bottles and laundry from their rooms, ran a quick Clorox wipe through the bathroom to keep it germ free, then downstairs to do the same to the kitchen and bathroom since they were usually up after me and left that space in a bit of a mess, too, then 1 or 2 laundry loads a day what with all their sports and endless mounds of dirty workout clothes. Now that they’re gone, things stay amazingly clean around here and all told I’ve decided I’ve regained about 10-15 hours a week; almost enough time to manage a part-time job.
With all this extra time on my hands, I’ve been going on lots of walks. It’s my favorite form of exercise and lately it’s also my key to remaining centered and present. The other day my friend called and asked where I was. When I said I was on one of my many long walks, she replied, “Oh, yes, I forgot, you’re on your walkabout this year.” I laughed and acknowledged, yes, I’m on a walkabout. You know, those trips the Australian aborigines take when they’re on a long spiritual journey? I’m doing one of those.
I start out each walkabout with a jumbled mind full of thoughts and anxieties until about a half a mile in, when I start to get lighter as I notice my surroundings: the leaf canopy overhead and all around enclosing me in lush green; the quiet of the winding path only broken by the sounds of birds or rustling of squirrels and rabbits in the leaf beds; the rushing sounds of water alongside me when I get to the part of the path that runs by the river; the occasional familiar sound of rubber tires on gravel as a biker passes by.
The jumble in my mind starts to come together the further I go on my endless path; endless because on a pathway once you get to the end, you can turn around and go back again in the other direction. Which is what appeals to me, the never endingness of it, there’s always the lure of something new right around the corner and up ahead.
As I focus on my surroundings, I sift through my thoughts to gain clarity. There’s not always a clear and obvious decision to come out of this time on the path, but I review the various thoughts in my head and start to see the common threads, the path I’m heading towards both literally and in my mind.
The other day I started at dusk and saw three deer on my walkabout. One of them stared directly at me with a steady gaze and didn’t budge, seeming to realize that I meant no harm. It was still and quiet and we both just stared at each other for several minutes, each wondering if the other was friend or foe; it was a peaceful moment as her gaze never left mine until I finally broke eye contact and continued on my way down the path.
Last week on a walk I passed a mom with a stroller in one hand and a second baby in her belly. She looked pretty organized for a mom with a little one and another on the way and as they passed, I heard her say quietly to her daughter in the stroller, “Yes, she’s walking so that she will be healthy too, just like us,” and I was hit with a wave of emotion as I realized that my own two kids aren’t here anymore for me to share these little life lessons with. Another thought for me to ponder on my walkabout, how will I contribute to their lives now that they’re moving into adulthood? It’s a tricky road, not one I’m sure of yet.
I have a sense of intense gratitude for the state of my life right now, even though it’s in flux and without a clear direction. When the radiologist handed me the breast cancer brochure and told me to get a biopsy in February of 2010, the first words that burst out of my mouth were “But I have a 10 and a 12 year old,” as I saw a very frightening and uncertain future at that moment. Six years later I’m so lucky to have seen them both graduate from high school, and the icing on that cake is that now both are also happily ensconsed in the respective college of their choice.
So the two sides of this empty nest thing are gratitude and longing. Gratitude because I feel so eminently lucky to be here to see them grow up, and longing because I yearn for the days when they were young and close and I was still there to teach them daily life lessons. Every grammar school morning as they launched themselves out of the car door after a mad scramble for back packs and lunch bags, I’d shout “Make good choices, I love you!” and they’d roll their eyes at their embarrassing mom. But I knew they heard me. Here’s to good choices for all of us.