john and mariaI recently wrote about my fight with the leftover Christmas tree in a fun piece where I suggest that I had to take a chainsaw to the tree to take it down.

I was home alone for the husband was on a trip to visit our oldest daughter, and the other two kiddoes have moved out into different parts of the city. I had lots of time on my hands and a harebrained scheme to get on with giving the house a good thorough cleaning. That included getting the tree out, an inconvenience made more difficult by its size. Nevertheless, I got it done. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. I was feeling less “empty nest” and more “they’ve flown the coop” and abandoned their poor old mother.

But the incident and my subsequent blog post got me thinking about what this new “emptiness” means for me, and my husband, and how it is changing the way we’re living in both big and small ways.

When this transition began years ago, with the kids’ departures to college and dorms, I could count on them returning for holidays and breaks. The long stretches of their absences were felt, but there was always the knowledge they’d be returning, usually all at once.

Then, they started moving into internships and full time jobs, and while two of my children are still in school, finishing up this year, they’ve taken on full-time jobs and commitments. Their moves out of the dorms and into those first, cheap, apartments has pretty much signaled the permanence of their departure from the nest.

On the one hand, I’m relieved to know they have figured it out -- how to be independent. How to begin making it in the world. It’s what we want as parents, after all. We’re still here, getting the occasional phone call, or a visit ostensibly for some home cooking, but including serious conversations about upcoming decisions or professional advice.

I have to admit, it gives me a great deal of pride to see them grown-up.

My first fear -- that they’d leave and never come back -- has been put aside. But I still have other fears, for their safety, not just physical, but emotional, and spiritual. I have to give that up to Our Lady, who mothers us all, and I so fervently pray that she be a mother to them when I’m not around, which is pretty much all the time.

That has put us, my husband and I, back where we were so many years ago, newlyweds trying to figure out how to live together, how to share a space and make a life with each other.

Oh, it’s a sweet time, this empty nest. We cook together, do chores, if not together, then at the same time -- he with the household accounts, me with the mop and the vacuum. Date night can be every night if we just make the effort. So, yes, there’s a certain joy about this season in our lives.

There’s also this thing about being alone...which is not loneliness, though that can be a topic for another day, but rather, the alone-ness. Of finding myself in a house that is too big for us, and only yesterday, it seems, was not big enough for all of us.

And then, there is this new pull by our parents, aging, and increasingly infirm. I can be a dutiful daughter, a loving daughter, and of course, I will...but it has, in a scary way, served as a reminder of what the next season of my life will be like as I continue to age and feel the limitations that seem to increase exponentially with each year.

What I’ve learned is that I cannot do this alone. That we are not meant to do it alone. I need the company of my children. I need the company of my parents, and siblings, and cousins and aunts and uncles. I need my friends. More than ever.

And I suspect, they need me, too.

Copyright 2013 María Morera Johnson