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An Emptier Nest Begins

Katie Allison Granju

Our house will be just a little less noisy starting this week.

Four weeks ago, my 2-year old-daughter, our youngest, turned three. Last week, 5-year-old C turned 6. And in the seven days ahead, C starts first grade, 15-year-old E starts 10th grade, and 17-year-old J will both turn 18 years old (!!) and move out of our house and into the dorm to begin her freshman year of college.

That’s a whole lot of growth and change and transition happening for our family in a very short span of time. I knew that, of course, and I have been anticipating the biggest of the changes for months and months, namely, J starting college and living away from family for the first time. As I would imagine is the case for most parents of entering-college freshmen, when I think about what lies ahead for my oldest daughter starting this week, I am hugely excited for her while at the same time more than a little wistful and flat out astonished by how damn fast her childhood flew by. Could it really have already been 18 years? Is it actually time for my little girl to move out and start the first chapter of her young adult life? This concept is absolutely mind-blowing to me.

Even as I have been acutely aware of all these big changes happening this month for each of my children individually, I had kind of missed the big picture of how J’s transition in particular will shift our life together as a family, and my life as a mother.  A few days ago, however, I had a sort of “aha” moment when it hit me that with Henry gone, and with J now moving out, that leaves only three children at home. And since E will continue to spend every other week with his dad, in his other home just a few miles across town, that means that half the time now, there will only be TWO children at home. For our household and family, that’s kind of not very many.

I always, always wanted a big, busy family. I am happiest when our house is full of kids running in and out: my children, my nieces and nephews, and my kids’ friends. Sure, I enjoy the rare occasion when it’s just me or just Jon and me at home alone, but I like it best when everyone is around, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. The best evenings for me are the ones where as I putter around the kitchen, Jon hangs out on the living room couch reading a book, I can hear music coming from J’s room, as well as the loud jeers and cheers from E and his friends shooting hoops into the absurdly large arcade basketball game we have set up  in “the big room” upstairs, while the two youngest “the little girls,” as our whole family refers to C and G run in and out with dolls and questions and requests to know when supper will be ready. I love coming home after an extra long day at work to find the porch lights on, with various teenage offspring and their cousins hanging out on the porch swing. I like seeing hula hoops and trikes strewn all over the front walkway on a weekend afternoon, and I love watching out the window as E patiently teaches G to play catch. This everyday rattle and hum of our biggish family living life inside and outside of the oversized old house we call home is what feels good and right to me. I love being part of all of that.

Of course, our whole family’s life changed in a brutally involuntary way three years ago when our oldest son and big brother died.  We had already missed him terribly during the nine months he spent away in two therapeutic programs for kids battling addiction. But with Henry gone forever,  none of us would ever again  hear him meandering around the house in his bare feet, plucking at his guitar. There would be no more sibling spats for me to referee between Henry and J over what to watch on TV, and no more frisbee games in our yard between Henry and his little brother. C would never again be swung around and around by her oldest brother in gales of giggles until I ordered him to stop before he made his little sister spit up her supper, and our youngest, G born three weeks after Henry died would never know day-to-day family life with her big brother at all.

So with my oldest taken from all of us too soon – before ever had the chance to move into a dorm to start his own first year of college – we have all felt his absence in our family and our house. But still, with two younger teenagers at home, and two little sisters chasing around after them, not to mention the giant dog, the cousins, houseguests we love to have, and Jon and me happily attempting to contain and direct the chaos (with varying degrees of success on any given day), in the past few years, there has still been a whole lot of activity around these parts.

Now, though, there will be a very radical shift in the routine sounds and activity of our household. While I will still and forever be the mother of five children, Jon and I will actually live with only three children, with one of them only at our house every other week until he, too moves out and into his own freshman dorm. And I now know all to well that the period between this week’s first day of 10th grade for him, and that day when he and all his buddies whom I love having hang out at our house stroll across the stage to snag their high school diplomas will pass in the blink of an eye.

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Life goes on for these four amazing children whom Jon and I are so proud and privileged to get to watch grow up and grow into the people they are meant to be, and also for me, as a mother who had her first baby at age 23, and who can’t really remember what life was like before the busy, full, messy family life I have loved with all my heart (almost) every day since then.

I know that our family is complete. Jon and I are 100 percent in agreement that we are done having children ourselves; we have the family we were meant to have, and it feels right. I am so glad that my five children have had and will have each other, the memories from years past, and the memories with one another yet to be had in the years ahead as brothers and sisters. Life including family life and life as a mother is all about change and transitions, and about the connections that endure and expand across and through those changes and transitions. I know this. I knew this the day we brought baby Henry home from the hospital.

But for at least a little bit of time during this current season of radical metamorphisis in our household, I will allow myself to remain a bit wistful about these latest changes, even as I cheer each of the kids’ milestones, relationships with one another and their continued healthy growth – the things that are my primary focus and greatest goal as their mother. I will likely wander around our quieter, less cluttered house on at least a few of the nights this fall when the only two children at home are already fast asleep, feeling a bit like a mother cat getting used to her kittens going to new homes. I will feel happy when the little girls are running around making noise and mess and fun, even if it’s just the two of them, and I will revel in hearing E and his buddies ravaging our freezer for pizza bites at midnight on the weeks he is at our house. While the little girls are anxious about seeing J packing up her bedroom this week to get ready to move, they are also already so excited about the dorm room sleepover that big sister has promised them will happen at some point during her first year away. I will also certainly continue to have late nights as I have since my oldest child died three years ago where everyone else, including Jon, is fast asleep, and I can’t sleep myself, when I will go upstairs and open the giant wooden chest where I’ve packed away all of Henry’s special things. I will allow myself to cry some over his favorite books and sweaters, his skateboard and his lacrosse stick, his baby book and his Christmas stocking.

And then I will close the wooden chest up again, and go kiss whatever sleeping children happen to be at home that night, safe in their beds, and I will silently give thanks for all of it – every bit of every day so far, and for the days and all the changes yet to come.

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READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT BIG GOOD THING (HER PERSONAL BLOG)

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