I am officially an empty nester. My college-age son lives with his father and my college-grad daughter has moved to Seattle. I live with my domestic partner (aka boyfriend), two dogs, and a cat, in a home we just purchased and are still fixing up and settling into.
I have a demanding job that I love. I travel often. I work out five days a week and play tennis on top of that. I go to lots of social events, some with friends and some that are connected to my career. I read a lot, see movies, and have committed to seeing some interesting theatre this season. In other words, I have a full life, and the demands on my time are many, so why do I still look longingly at families with small children?
It's not like I have the energy for young children. When great nieces and nephews visit, I love playing with and spoiling them but am happy when their parents take them home and I can tidy up. When colleagues bring their babies to the office, I hold them for a couple of minutes but gladly turn them back over once they start to fuss.
I seriously considered having more children in my 40s but am eternally grateful now that my body had other ideas. My typical day goes like this: Up at 5am to run or work out, home to shower and eat, out the door by 7:30 to fight traffic, working at my desk pretty much non-stop until lunch (at which time I eat at my desk and then run errands), back to the desk for another four hours, and then it's tennis two to three days a week or an after-work meeting or event, and then home to make dinner, take care of the animals, sweep up dog hair, talk to my significant other about his day, and then maybe - MAYBE - if I'm lucky, settle in to watch an hour of television or read a few pages of the novel I've been trying to finish, before I crash at about 9:00. The weekends are equally full with friends and trips and dinners out and shopping and laundry and cleaning. This is a full life. There are days when I forget to touch base with my kids (usually by text message), and if I go two or three days without touching base, I feel really guilty.
And yet...and yet, I look at younger women with toddlers in tow and remember those days with a fondness that borders on yearning. Intellectually, I know I'm done. Emotionally, images of other families conjure up memories of my own children and simpler days. Days when we got up whenever we felt like it (I didn't work when they were little), had a leisurely breakfast, went to the park or the mall, took naps together, read books, watched Sesame Street, made finger paints, and did all the things I have absolutely no patience or energy for anymore.
I live in the world of adults now, including the worlds of my two adult children. The magic of the early years is behind me, and on some days, that just makes me sad. It was so much fun. Of course, the only way to stay in that world is to find a way to not let your children grow up, and not only is that unfair to them, it's unfair to the world and to ourselves. They need to make their way. The world needs them now more than I do, and I need to get back to all the things I gave up when they were little (even if I didn't see it that way then).
It's all good, as the saying goes. It's a good thing that they are making their way in the world. It's a good thing I have a full life. And it's a good thing that a part of me will always be that Mom who baked cookies and spent weeks sewing Halloween costumes together. It's just that once in a while, she sticks her head out and wonders where it all went.