It’s been offensively long since my last post, I know, but I’ve been taking some time to deal with a shocking revelation. It turns out that I am related to Nahtmee.  And not distantly related, either. Our branches on the family tree actually touch each other.

Here’s how I found out. This past summer was the first time that all four of my kids were away. (All 5 kids if you count Nahtmee, an invisible entity who is blamed for almost everything, so when I ask “Who left the milk out overnight to spoil”, the inevitable reply is “Not Me!”) Each one had a different itinerary with different start dates in different countries so there was a hell of a lot of packing, unpacking and repacking.  However, there was a solid two-week period during which they were all not home simultaneously.  For the first time in seventeen years, Phil and I found ourselves in an empty, quiet house. We glimpsed our future as empty nesters;  it was eerie and unfamiliar.

The full impact of having no kids home didn’t hit me at first because the day that the last one left, Phil and I went on a short trip of our own.  We came home to find the house precisely as we’d left, the contents of the snack cupboard perfectly intact and not a single shoe, sock or balled-up tissue strewn anywhere.  And that’s when it hit me; my kids weren’t the only ones who went away for the summer. Nahtmee was gone too.

I hadn’t signed Nahtmee up to any camp or tour and I certainly hadn’t packed a suitcase filled with gender neutral clothes for Zir (gender neutral for “him/her”) so where did Zhe (“he/she)” disappear to? Without anyone at home to shout at about urine-soaked toilet seats and wet towels left to mold on the carpet I was feeling a bit rudderless, like I lacked purpose and in their absence I was surprised to find myself wishing for Nahtmee to coat the bottom of the bathtub with ¾ of a bottle of shampoo or leave the freezer door open overnight causing the meat and chicken to defrost into a stinky, gelatinous pile.  It turns out that no kids= no Nahtmee. They are one and the same. Which means that Nahtmee and I share DNA.  And that sucks for Zir given the fact that I’m BRCA1 positive (that’s the gene that almost guarantees you’ll get breast cancer).   Mom-1, Nahtmee-0.

For two solid weeks, my home felt sort of like a designer knockoff handbag; it looks like the original but you just can’t shake the feeling that something is off, not quite as it should be. I was convinced that having the place to ourselves, kid free, would bring the quiet I’m always wishing for, a Zen-like atmosphere. In fact, the effect was the total opposite. The stillness was unnerving and instead of having the mega-productive summer that I’d envisioned for myself, I spent more time than ever before staring out the window, with the soft and constant humming of the refrigerator as my companion.

I had a demanding career in fashion marketing and e-commerce for many years and I happily put that on hold to raise my family, but seemingly overnight they have all grown up and become their own people. They have places to be and things to do and often those places and things don’t include me.  If my life was a book, this chapter would be called “What Gila Did Next”.  And this is what I’m doing next: writing.  Because if those two weeks in the summer taught me anything, it’s the importance of being malleable when it comes to my identity and my goals; to avoid the temptation of dropping anchor in any one phase of life thereby missing a chance to reinvent myself.

Now that I think about it, I’ve already shape-shifted a few times; I went from student to employee, left the world of fashion to join what was at the time a brand new and little known industry of e-commerce, went from single to married and then dove straight into motherhood.  I’ve changed before and I’m doing it again, but this time it feels scary and tenuous.  I think the difference is that every other time I underwent a role change, I had some control, some choice in the matter.  I was well in my comfort zone as a mom of young kids, but now I’m strapped to the treadmill that being a parent of teenagers is and someone is relentlessly increasing the speed as well as the incline. I have no choice but to keep pace as I barrel towards the inevitable day that they all move away.

The kids all returned home, one by one and with suitcases filled with unspeakably filthy clothes. The sounds of Fortnight, fighting over the last granola bar and “Ma, Ma, Ma,Ma,Ma” being repeated on a loop once more permeated the house and I stood in the middle of it all, misty eyed and grateful, vowing to never raise my voice to them again.

This lasted about 20 minutes, by which time I was shouting “Who’s bowl is this with cereal bits cemented to the sides that I’ll need a chisel to get off ?!?!”.  Apparently the bowl belonged to no one.

And that was the day I met Nahtmee’s lesser known cousin…..Nahtmyne.

6 thoughts on “When Empty Nest Syndrome Kicks in Too Early

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