It started with the gradual emptying of the pantry. Gone were the pastas, cereal bars, and cookies, of every kind. Next, the mac and cheese, chips and cheesy crackers. Then, the shelf of gluten-free snacks for the one with celiac. Our pantry which had once been described as “happy” would now be more accurately deemed “mildly content.” Such is life as my children slowly leave home. The house is quieter, the dinner table less exuberant. Less laundry, grocery shopping, picking up after people. When I come out of my bedroom in the morning the hallway is bathed in sunlight from so many open doors. I had four children in seven years so the household has always been busy. I embrace the emptying of my nest, the trickling down of activity. When I see a young mom in the grocery store with a tantrum-ing child, I think to myself, “Been there, done that.” But the house isn’t quite empty…
There are cases of formula in the pantry for my second child who gets most of his nutrition through a feeding tube. There are still the daily reminders and coordinating our schedules. I have to drive him to his activities or arrange rides, though he is twenty-four years old. He is pleasant company and enjoys the full attention of his parents. Me? I yearn for an empty nest.
My youngest left for college in the fall. “Excited for an empty nest?” people asked me. Then they remembered that I have a son with special needs who lives at home. So no, I do not have an empty nest. At least not yet. “I am determined to have one, before I die,” I halfheartedly joke. I am 59 years-old and my mother died when she was 74 so I feel the clock ticking, whether that’s rational or not. I have raised four kids for the last twenty-five years. It has been a joy, a grind, and a struggle – like all parents will attest if they’re honest. I have few regrets and am lucky to have four young adults who are nice people whose company I enjoy. But I am ready to become the “consultant” parent rather than the “supervisor” even if I have a more difficult road to get to that point with the last chick in my nest.
My second son has a genetic disease called Familial Dysautonomia. He is medically fragile, has a feeding tube, limited stamina, and occasional episodes that require medication. I have tried to make him as independent as possible. He can do his own tube feedings, prepare his own medications, assemble simple foods, bathe, dress himself and of late even do his own laundry. I am certain he is capable of learning to do more but I have hit the wall with patience. I am tired. I am not sure what kind of living situation would be best but I am certain that someone else can each him to grocery shop, arrange his own transportation, and do more housekeeping.
He does not want to move out of our house. Why would he? It’s comfortable and no one bothers him. If I mention moving out, he crosses his arms and looks down with a forlorn look. I say, “Your brothers have moved out and live in apartments, your sister is away at college, it is a natural part of life. You don’t want to be so dependent on your mom now that you’re an adult.” He begrudgingly concedes this point, though I don’t think he really believes it.
My son can’t envision an adult life separate from us so the onus is on me to create that vision, with his input, and help him “see” it. It’s difficult, particularly because I am not a helicopter mom by nature. I give my other kids the space and freedom to live their lives while I cheer them on from the sideline. I took him to see an accessible apartment building. I needed him to actually set eyes on an apartment so he can visualize what it would be like. Once I said, “I can see a TV here where you can play video games…” he seemed a little excited.
I feel a little selfish striving to move my son out when he does not particularly want to go. But as I push 60, I think I’ve earned time to myself and with my husband while we’re relatively young and able. Selfishness aside, I believe this is in the best interest of our whole family, scary as it is because my son is so vulnerable. If life progresses in the proper order, my husband and I will predecease my disabled son. If he is not set up in a good living situation, my other children will have to start from scratch. They are loving, empathetic siblings who I can count on to look after their brother but I want to be mindful of their independent lives.
What do I imagine his future to look like? A place of his own where he is safe and happy, a part-time job, and a social life. Just a slight modification of my hopes for my other children. And this next chapter of my life? Like a good book, I hope for an interesting story arc where the protagonist gets to live her best life, her children are happy and healthy, and she has adventures with great friends and her love interest (of 27 years!) She is close with her kids, but not in the same house.
Hopefully one day soon, this will become truth, not fiction.