Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 16, 2011

Bye, bye, old me ... hello, new me

Something just isn't right. The house is too quiet. The laundry basket isn't as full as it used to be. The dishes don't pile up as quickly on the kitchen counter. No one asks questions about homework or requests cookies for school bake sales or has permission slips to sign. And my calendar pages seem strangely blank - no sports, music, drama or other such activities to fill them up.

Even our routine has changed. Husband Art and I don't need to get up at 6:15 in the morning unless we want to. We don't need to get home at a certain time to greet kids getting off the school bus.

It's the first time in 20 years that we don't have a child in the Riley County school district. Twenty years ago, we watched as daughter Mariya got on the school bus for the first time. In the years since then, we've watched as she and youngest daughter Katie graduated from kindergarten, then middle school, then high school. All along the way, we cheered them on when they succeeded and wiped away tears when things weren't going so well.

Now they're off on new adventures. Mariya is teaching at Kansas State University after having completed her master's degree in English last May. Katie is just beginning her freshman year at the university.

So Art and I are now officially "empty nesters." The girls aren't far away in another city or state or country, so it's not like I don't see them often. And the fact that they live away from home is a natural stage of growing up and becoming independent.

So why do I feel so bereft, so lost? It's as though a part of who I am has disappeared.

I guess in a way it has.

It's not as if I told the girls, "Well, you're out of the house now. Good luck to you!" Still, it's not the same as being a day-to-day mom.

But I've had to re-invent myself before and I guess I can do it again.

Twenty-five years ago, first husband Jerome died when I was pregnant with Mariya. I felt like half my soul had been ripped away. Often I wanted to hide under the covers. Several mornings when the grief just seemed too hard to face, I did just that. But I knew that I had to get out of bed and, even if it was all I could do, put one foot in front of the other. Minute by minute, day by day, week by week, I learned to cope with widowhood and then new motherhood.

In 1997, I was seriously ill with an auto-immune disease. I worried I would die while my own immune system stripped me of my ability to do all the little things that I'd taken for granted. I couldn't drink a glass of water or roll over in bed, much less walk or talk. Then, after the doctors were able to halt the disease, I had to resign myself to the fact that it was going to take time to heal and to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

When Dad died in 2002, I again felt lost. He had been such a gentle guiding light in my life and I missed him tremendously. I still miss him and other loved ones who have died.

But these experiences helped me discover that the feeling of loss is gradually replaced by gratitude - gratitude for what others have brought to my life.

Compared to these things, having an empty nest is nothing. But do I miss seeing the girls get off the yellow school bus or drive into the driveway at the end of each day? Do I miss hearing their stories about the latest "drama" at school? Do I miss their rumpled beds, the loose hair pins on the bathroom sinks, the piled-up papers and books? Do I miss looking in and seeing them sound asleep with our cat Cookie sprawled across their feet?

Indeed I do!

Yet I know that it is just one chapter of my life that is ending while another one is beginning. And though it is disquieting to say "good-bye" to the old familiar me, I'm also eager to see who the new Gloria will be.

Left to right: Mariya boarding the bus on her first day of kindergarten, Mariya begins her schooling
at Kansas State University, Katie heading off on her first day of school, Katie's college career begins.

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