There we were. Alone at last. Just the two of us: my husband behind the wheel, me in the passenger seat. We had just dropped off our daughter at camp and were ready to embark on the three-hour drive home. No kids. No dog. Just us.
My husband turned on the radio. I rolled down my window, put my feet on the dashboard, closed my eyes, and began thinking—which sometimes is not a good thing. “Birds have it easy,” I said to my husband. “They incubate their eggs for approximately two weeks, and then spend another two weeks raising their young until they leave the nest and fly away forever.”
“Try not to think too much,” my husband replied with the standard reply he always gives when I think too much. Unfortunately, it was too late.
As we all know, humans don’t have it quite as easy. My husband and I have been sitting on our nest for nearly twenty years, feeding our young, helping them with homework, offering unsolicited dating advice, and accompanying them on college visits. Not that we are complaining. We love being parents. But as the wind blew my hair and the sounds of the Steve Miller Band filled the car, I was suddenly reawakened to the woman I once was, before I became “Mom.”
I reached over and turned up the radio. “Some people call me the Space Cowboy …,” I loudly sang.
My husband didn’t need any encouragement as he threw his head back and crooned along with me.
Our singing slowly faded as we slipped into the comfortable silence two people share after being married for a long time. It was a beautiful summer evening. My husband tapped the steering wheel in rhythm with the song.
I closed my eyes again and smiled. In that moment, I allowed myself to embrace my seven-day freedom from motherhood. For one whole week, I wouldn’t have to ask my daughter, “Where are you going? What time will you be home? Does your car have enough gas? Why don’t you ever clean your room?” It seemed like heaven.
As our car sped past one cornfield after another and the miles separated us even further from our daughter, I knew she was probably already in the midst of her own form of heaven, secretly grateful that for one whole week, she wouldn’t have to listen to me ask, “Where are you going? What time will you be home? Does your car have enough gas? Why don’t you ever clean your room?”
I brushed my wind-blown hair out of my eyes and gazed out the window at the crops. Together, my daughter and I were welcoming our newfound independence. We were both learning how to live without each other—she for the first time and me again. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. Even though I knew she would eventually take a different path that would lead her away from her father and me, and that was okay. During that three-hour car ride, I had allowed myself to envision what life would be like in a few years—and I liked it.
I think the birds are onto something big. Maybe having an empty nest isn’t so bad after all.
“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”