Saturday, August 2, 2008

'Empty nest expat' - the emotions without the nest

Words prove inadequate to capture the majority of life’s most poignant moments and gripping emotions.

This morning I breezed by the empty bedroom, door wide open, dusty abandoned papers – the sum of eight years of private school in Ghana - left in sliding piles on the floor… Where the door would once be almost closed, the hum of the airconditioning purring and the soft breath of a teenager, sleeping, sleeping within.

It’s a Saturday morning. We’re up late, but he always woke later. I saved some bacon to fry up for him and we carried on with the day, always with the subconscious comfort of knowing he would pop his head into the lounge at some stage, bushy haired, sleepy eyed and shy, and he would find his mini soccer ball, like an old friend, to kick leisurely around…

Today is very quiet. Even with the music blasting from the speakers, to aid us along in the daily tasks, a vibrancy, an expectation is missing. It is truly a void.

Earlier this week, as the airplane lifted off, our middle son, second graduate, off to University in Canada, left the dark red soil of Ghana forever. It is the reality of living as an expat – the children don’t have a ‘home’ to come back to. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, there is no sentimentality in the company provided house, fully furnished. No bedroom to come back to forever, with all the medals and posters displayed as a haven, a fall back zone for the child, but mostly the parents – as seen in American movies… No, it’s just the raw emotional reality that the child has grown up and has gone.

I find myself, in the silence, burdened with the conflict between the emotional and the practical. Things have gone well. He has mastered the basics in life – brilliant at charming and influencing peers and adults alike, calm and affable yet the life of the party when the time is right. He found first love, and witnessing the dance was beautiful and nostalgic. But he did it better. He waited, he played and then he fell hard. No heartbreak yet, but those come. And we will not see it, feel it, we will not be part of that. He has grown up and he has gone. It’s natural. Yet it’s a sad reality for parents. He was never one day the cause of anger or worry. The rarity of this is not lost on me. At 18 years old, we can only wish him well and miss him in every way. Though the last two years prepared us for his departure – he was wrapped up in his own growing world, with emotions and passions and relationships evolving – we still felt his presence, cherished the small time together, the laughter in his eyes and the man he was becoming.

Still, today is difficult to face. He hasn’t gone away to a University a half a day’s drive away, he is gone in a much more profound way. He will live for four years at school, in a different world, a continent away, during which time the rest of his transformation will occur. He will definitely be a man. He will never be back. That process started in earnest this week.

As a step parent my emotional ties surprise me – but then he has always had a way of pulling people close, having them feed off his subtle but electric energy, and leaving you with a sense that you desire only to nurture and inspire him on his path. Four years were special, well spent, and enough to pull me in fully.
And next will be the last one. My own. I can’t as yet imagine it, though it will come, pushed along by the forces of nature and seasons and the urgency of puberty. He too has been an angel and I’m not sure whether to think we have been lucky or blessed.

I also find it strange, my melancholy. We have plans and aspirations and life affirming adventures ahead. We will not be sitting in the proverbial suburban house, on the matching opposite arm chairs, with the daily paper between us - the children’s bedrooms, ‘as they were’ upstairs, pathetically awaiting their return or a weekend visit with laundry in tow… We won’t be in that proverbial world, staring at each other over a pregnant silence… no empty nest syndrome for us. When the boys have gone we too will start a new life, like teenagers, on our boat… floating out to sea…

But still, there is the stark realization that the children we have raised are wonderful, complex and likeable people, and we’ll miss them with a love and admiration I would never have imagined until now.
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Kalyn said...

Such a poignant post!

The pale observer said...

Thanks Kalyn! Happy to see you are checking in with me now and then!

:) Holli

Zee Harrison said...

Your words came alive, Holli. Bittersweet. Sounds as if you played your part well.
Well done!

By the way I have placed a link on my blog to you. Thank you and I will be checking in frequently.

Kajsa Hallberg Adu said...

My mom some time ago talked ( I think it was when my brother left the house) about how the child-parent relationship is the only love relationship that from the beginning moves towards a break-up.

Judging from your post, maybe you can say the same as my mother-in-law beautifully stated: "I gave birth to my best friends".

Love hurts!

Scott said...

Hi Holli,

Nice post! Very moving.

Thanks to the link to my blog, too!

Take care,


The pale observer said...

Thanks all for your comments. It's strange for me as I don't remotely feel the age yet (not yet 40) but these stages in life just happen upon us and the emotions just follow whether we like it or planned for it or not.

It is definitely great to get along with your kids, and appreciate them as individuals. Gives you a good feeling too that they'll do well out in the world!!

Laurel said...

While you live in Ghana, and send your kids to North America for college (and beyond?), we live in North America and send our kids to other continents for their time of "growing up".

We have children living in Germany, Argentina, and Jordan right now. But, we do not have an empty nest. We did not stop after having the first 6 children in 6 years (who are all now young adults). We continue to have a house full with 7 younger kids to keep us busy (4 more bio. and 3 adopted from Ghana).

Love your writing ...

Laurel :)

The pale observer said...

Thanks for reading Laurel. Definitely sounds like you have your hands full. I don't think I could handle your load! But more power to you for being a mom to all those kids!!!
All the best, Holli

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