I am that woman — older, an ‘Empty Nester’ (3 sons launched into the world), dog and cat mom, reader of trashy romance novels (still), paddle boarder, runner, lover of soups and seafood.
According to contemporary/social media I am recognized as the ‘Empty Nester’ (EN) vis a vis commercials, movie roles, and Instagram musings. We are a distinct species of woman — no longer in our child-bearing years, (still) a useful part of the work force, but (still) somewhat pitiable because, really — what do we DO all day if we are not looking after a husband or children ?
My favorite EN commercial is a spot by Geico : the disgruntled , self-absorbed, female EN sits poolside flipping through a magazine complaining bitterly on the phone to her adult son about her squirrel problem (the unseen husband/father is allegedly going to ‘take care of them’). Meanwhile , her son is busy (silentlhy) fending off James Bond-like villains and action on the other end of the conversation. It’s tough out here on these EN streets, am I right ?
Then there are the advice columns (I admit I’m obsessed with Carolyn Hax’s column in Washington Post) — there never seems to be a lack of the EN MIL or mother who presses her children on their timeline for producing grandchildren. Subtle hints, not-so-subtle hints, outright demands and threats — the EN cannot be denied her second-tier reproductive rights to have grandchildren.
All of this was brought to mind over the weekend when I happened upon a delightful comedy on Netflix. The EN in the film was an otherwise gorgeous , but miserable, woman who had zero maternal instincts. However, she did possess limitless powers of awkwardly misplaced and unfulfilled “Cougar” skills. Her EN status was mitigated when she was able to hook up with a sexy, ‘older’ man by film’s end.
Recent postings on Instagram featured the #BussItChallenge — yes , we EN’s follow all sorts of trends (!). The talented Chloe Bailey slayed said challenge — no holds barred. Criticism of her slaydom was attributed to ‘older women’ jealous of her skills. I have to be on record as saying I am definitely not one of them. I’m constantly in awe of the talents, activism, and awareness of younger women — they suffer no fools. It gives me a sense of hope for the future that these young beings will bless this world with their gifts long after I am gone.
Don’t get me wrong — squirrels CAN be annoying, everyone deserves to get their groove(s) on, and sure, grandkids are cute(?). But really — is that all we EN’s get to claim — grouchy resentment and overstepping boundaries ?
I tend to think of this phase of my life as limitless Self Care Days. Body and face oils, herbal shower gels, relaxing hikes and runs, plans for paddle boarding once spring arrives , lazy weekend mornings hitting up my favorite bakery or kombucha bar (COVID precautions observed)— you name it, I’m up for it.
And how about wardrobe choices ? I can wear a white t-shirt or blouse, or (gasp) white pants ALL DAY without having to worry about Capri Sun or pizza sauce stains by days’ end. I can also lounge around the house in whatever loungewear I deem appropriate without a worry or thought of provoking an eye-roll or ‘MOM!’ — it’s all good.
The work place is relatively stress-free for me. I have heard and seen it all — the irony of anyone trying to stress me out at work is laughable. The divine security of having years of professional experience is a blessing I could never have fathomed when I first began my career in healthcare. I am also grateful to be able to share whatever knowledge I have attained with my co-workers and likewise accept their fresh perspectives.
I listen to my friends as they bemoan their high school and college aged kids’ life choices — the partying, drugs, attitude, and empty pockets. It’s a familiar scenario for me — Been There , Done That, Got the T-shirt — I listen with sympathy, empathy, and offer whatever comfort I can. And when our conversations are over, I pull out my trashy romance novel and sip on my cocktail and let my mind conjure images of whatever pithy, froth I’m reading at the time. My leisure is a luxury, alone-time and peace rejuvenating to my soul.
I check in with my sons regualrly — they all have varying needs of connection. I appreciate their proximity to my life and share their happiness with their lives. Though I worry about them — even as adults (but especially as Black men in America) — I am also allowed vicarious feelings of happiness just knowing they are out in the world and living their own lives. Knowing that their independence was the one of the main goals I raised them to achieve .
Life as an EN is more akin to life as a Pioneer — I don’t know where the limits are because I’m too busy being all that I can be Right Now. I’m ‘over the hill’ and keep going further over the next one. I know the Final Frontier is out there, but I also have no doubt that I’m the best guide to get me there.