Monday, April 18, 2016

Empty Nesting

Photo credit: Pixabay
My husband and I bought our house when we were newlyweds and my daughter wasn’t even a blip on the family radar. It was a cute house, with good bones, but it needed updating, and so we dug right in. Painting, decorating, planting flowers—the sweat equity projects that are within the budget of first time home buyers—the things that make a house a home.

For the first few years, I took on a new project every summer. Painting was my specialty, but I’ve stripped and replaced plenty of wallpaper and even tried my hand at a few craft projects. When I got pregnant, the nesting that ensued bookended the summer and temporarily increased my domesticity. I even bought a sewing machine and tested out my long-dormant sewing skills, making valences and a comforter for the nursery. 

When my daughter was small, I managed to squeeze my projects into nap time and weekends, but as she got bigger and more mobile, the projects—and my interest in them—tapered off. Later, when I had to choose between writing and home improvement projects, the former won every time. 

This fall, my daughter is heading to college. As I look around our house, the haphazardness of our home improvement projects over the past eighteen years—years spent at playgrounds and concerts and basketball games—is undeniable. The house looks tired and in need of some of the attention we lavished on it when we were young enough to spend a weekend painting without needing a weekend to recover. Lately, I’ve been lying in bed choosing paint colors for the kitchen and wondering how long it takes a 50-something person to paint a room compared to her 30-something self.

If my daughter’s bedroom project is any indication, that time frame is too embarrassing to print. Early in her high school career, we started an overly ambitious painting project in her room; we’ve yet to finish it. Busyness, allergies and waning enthusiasm collided, leaving the big room repainted (except for one wall behind a heavy piece of furniture) and the smaller space untouched. In the smaller room, horses galavant across a wallpaper border affixed to sponge painted walls, creating an ironic contrast to the trappings of teen life that are apparent everywhere else in the space.

As my daughter’s departure from her room and our house draws closer, I find myself torn between the desire to tear down the border and finally paint the walls and the realization that she won’t be in that room long enough—or often enough—to enjoy the results. Mom-guilt pricks at my conscience at the thought of sending her off to college with this years-old project still incomplete, while my practical side says to hold off and paint the room the color I want rather than the rich, dark red she chose—a color I know will be difficult to put up, more difficult to paint over and a constant reminder that the room’s long-time inhabitant no longer lives there.

Photo: Pixabay
And so I marinate in indecision, wondering how much of this has anything to do with painting at all.

I knew it was normal to nest when I was pregnant, but now I find myself wondering if empty nesting is normal, too. With time on our hands and changes ahead, does it make perfect sense to re-envision our home as we re-envision our future? Am I finally stepping up to the plate and making up for years of turning a blind eye toward all that needed to be done? 

Or, am I looking to fill time and keep busy? 

As parents of an only child, we won’t have a step-by-step transition. In August, we’ll go from being parents to being empty nesters. As the time draws closer, I wonder not only how we’ll do that, but how it’s possible that it never occurred to us before that we’d be diving off the cliff of family back into the waters of couplehood. And that those waters are likely to take some getting used to.

So I look at my house and I wonder what comes next. What’s in good shape and what needs to be replaced? What looks tired and what needs refreshing? Do we start with the inside or the outside?

And for the first time since we bought the house, I can’t ignore the metaphor.


  1. Awww! :)
    I would say, leave her room alone and do other stuff. I'm still waiting for time to tear down soccer photos and repaint the walls in the room Luke vacated in favor of his big brother's bigger room when his brother moved out. I mean, I could have an office...21 months later it's just a dumping ground.

    1. Don't tell my daughter, but I'm considering taking over her desk while she's at school :-)

  2. I can sympathize as a fellow empty-nester. But, guess what? There are school holidays and summers to fill up the house again, even if only temporarily. :-)

    1. Looking forward to those, Karen -- and enjoying the time between now and August. (Most days).