The Second Empty Nest
A grandmother’s story
Parents know that they will face the proverbial empty nest when their children leave home, but Laurie Whitman experienced a second empty nest. She shares with Boomer readers her experience after her first granddaughter went to kindergarten.
Never one to be called a “baby person,” I did not have a burning desire to hold every baby that came into my world. I saw how lovely they all were, but fear usually took over. I did not know how to hold them, I might drop them; they could throw up.
When I became a mother, blessed with a healthy big bouncy boy, I was enchanted. He was the most beautiful baby in the world; I adored him. Born in January, I reveled in staying indoors during an especially cold winter. Just me and my boy.
My daughter was born 4-1/2 years later. Also beautiful and I, still enchanted. The house morphed into a newborn station once again while trying to keep a 4-year old occupied. She was a summer baby, and despite the doctor’s advice about not driving for three weeks, I drove her to my son’s swimming lessons at the indoor pool of the high school. She was one week old. Might as well get used to the fray early. I figured she liked the steamy balcony of the indoor pool; it was sort of womb-like.
One night about seven years ago, my daughter asked if I could meet her for dinner. This request was a little unusual, I thought maybe something was up. I said sure. I expected to see her troublesome boyfriend with her, as I thought it was an engagement announcement. She was alone and did not look excited.
“Mom, I’m pregnant.”
Not the news I was looking for. My thoughts were a jumble. I mumbled something about her being an adult, I thought she was in a solid relationship and my usual response came forth: It could be worse.
When I walked in the door that evening, the phone was ringing. I had not had a chance to tell anyone, I was still a bit befuddled. It was my stepdaughter calling from Austin.
When I told her about the new revelation, she exclaimed:
“That is wonderful news!”
That phone conversation set the tone for me. As I told other people, their words of love and congratulations poured forth.
One neighbor said, “It’s always a blessing to welcome a baby into the family.”
Being a new mom all those years ago, I never took stock of how my babies followed me with their eyes as I was talking. I never realized how enthralled my parents, friends and strangers were about a new baby. I did not have time or the wherewithal to witness that. But I got to observe this very thing with my granddaughter and my daughter.
Upon the birth of Charlotte, one friend commented, “Welcome to the Magic Land.”
That it is.
And if I thought I was enchanted with my firstborn, it was nothing compared to the complete and utter joy I experienced with this baby. I could not hold her enough. I held her when she was sleeping; I just sat and gazed at her. I found I walked around the neighborhood in hopes of seeing someone – anyone – who would concur with me that she was the most beautiful baby in the world.
We spent lots of time together. My daughter works full-time, so Charlotte was here all day Tuesdays and Thursdays and I walked her to preschool the other mornings. Lots of overnights, lots of pick-ups from school, lots of time.
Library story hour, the zoo, the arboretum, adventure walks through the neighborhood, farmer’s market, swimming lessons, going to the park, watering plants, reading — me to her — planting pumpkins, crafts, dolls, songs, stage productions. Always busy.
Another grandmother’s story: The wisdom of a child
For almost six years. Then full-day kindergarten came.
I saw her off on her first day. Proudly dressed in her uniform, giant backpack strapped to her back, lunch box in hand, she waved good-bye as she marched in line with the rest of her class into her new world.
No one prepares you for the second empty nest.
I found I had nothing to do. Whereas I had done my share of kvetching about getting up early, non-stop chat-fest, running around after a little one, no time for myself, I was at a loss.
Then summer came. Tuesdays and Thursdays, sleepovers. Swimming lessons, the library, the park, the arboretum, dolls, reading — her to me — games, baking. I had my old job back.
But, like most things, nothing lasts forever. Summer ends, school starts. No one bounding in the front door exclaiming “I’m here. What are we doing today?”
Until that is, my son and his wife walk into my home and say, “Mom, guess what?”
Laurie Whitman happily entered the “Magic Land” – the land of grandparenting – 11 years ago. She has had essays published in the Chicago Tribune, wrote a weekly column about people in her community for the local newspaper and has appeared in the “True Stories” section of Readers Digest featuring a story about her granddaughter. Now with seven grandchildren, she is never at a loss for material.