Being a stay at home mom is one of my most prized possessions. For the past 18 years, my main “job” has been to take care of my children. I was able to be there for my kids every step of the way, and I mean every step of the way. From their actual first steps, to temper tantrums, to cleaning up puke at 3:00 in the morning, honey, I was there. It is not a glamorous occupation, no high heels or mascara needed, and I am blessed to have had it. But now that my kids are all in high school and they don’t really need me on a day to day basis, what do I do now.
This is the thought that wakes me up in a cold sweat after registering all three of my teenagers for high school. And as I tossed and turned myself back to sleep, I realized, I did not have a plan. My youngest is 14, my oldest 17, and if I did my math right which is tenuous, I have about 4 years until I am a full blown empty nester.
This is the downside to being a stay at home mom for about a third of my life with no clear cut exit strategy. It seemed I was doomed to be one of “those” empty nesters. You know the type; the woman who visits her kids way too much at the university, wears cat sweaters and polyester pants and spends way too much time decorating the extra bedroom. I imagined my golden years much differently from the reality I had created. I imagined exploring the Galapagos islands in a trendy romper, or teaching Anthropology at some little University in Belgium or being on a world tour promoting my newest novel. Yes, this is how I imagined my empty nester years.
I had a huge problem though, reality was sinking in fast and I had to admit, I had not prepared for any of these things. To be honest, I really had not prepared at all. I never even perceived the time would come where my day to day motherhood would ever end. Any parent of a toddler or a high schooler for that matter, would agree with me here, it seems like it will never end. The days filled with screaming children running around your house, the days filled with driving kids from one activity to another, the days filled with laughter and activity created by having a house full of children, seemed, in my delusional mom mind, to be endless. Once I faced the reality that it most definitely will end, I was filled with a host of emotions.
First, I was happy. I did a great job raising my 3 kids and now it is time for me. Second, I was scared. What hell am I going to do with myself. Third, I was terrified. My subconscious mind pushed the panic button. My brain slapped me on the back and yelled, “Hey you! Yeah you, in the World’s Greatest Mom pajamas who is 40 lbs overweight with a list of things to do hanging on the refrigerator, you are in trouble!”
I would like to say I got up the next morning and started on my novel, signed up for Anthropology at the local college and joined a travel club, but I did not. I began, well, nothing. Denial can be a beautiful place and I packed my bags and spent some time there. I went on with my life as nothing would ever change. I did not think about the fact that in 4 short years I would be obsolete, a has been mom, making heart shaped pancakes on Sunday morning for nobody but me. I didn’t think about my good for nothing children who would be leaving me soon to live out their dreams in exotic destinations while I was left to shrivel up and die. I swear, I didn’t think about that at all.
The panic button had been pushed though and could not be reset and I literally had to stop the martyring and really look at the road ahead of me. I had to look at the truth. And the truth was, I was 50 years old women who needed to make some changes, make some goals and get busy. I decided that Shady Acres Retirement Home would have to wait.
I sat down with a pint of ice cream and a half eaten tube of chocolate chip cookie dough and went to work. I made my Anti-Empty-Nester Plan. I had 4 years to reinvent myself and first up on my list was to finish what I had started when I was 20 years old and that was my education. To receive my MBA and CPA had been my destination before I was side tracked with poopy diapers, cable bills and Chuck-E-Cheese.
I applied and was accepted at Governor State University and I was on my way. I did have doubts though. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Could I actually do it? Did I actually have enough brain cells still snapping to do actual math? Could I survive going back to college?
The answer is a resounding yes! I just finished my first semester of college after 18 years and I not only finished, but I nailed it, I rocked it, I kicked college’s ass. I received straight A’s and I am going back for more. I also lost 10 lbs, went roller skating and bought a super cool pair of boots. And this is just the beginning. I might get to the Galapagos Islands yet.