Editor’s Note: NextTribe is three years old. Such a baby! But already an overachiever! In mid-February 2017, Jeannie Ralston and Lori Seekatz launched NextTribe with 12 articles, good intentions, and an almost complete lack of awareness of how tough the road ahead would be. But here we are: older (ain’t we all?), wiser (about some things), and yes, stronger than ever (woohoo!). To celebrate, we’re running three of the original articles published on NextTribe. All of them are by Jeannie Ralston, because frankly she wrote almost all those original articles. We have since published more than 900 articles and 75-plus writers–from bestselling authors to first-timers. Thanks to all of you who have helped us get this far.
The kids are gone. The house is quiet. It’s the state of being that we’ve worked for and dreaded our whole parenting life. The term “empty nest” emphasizes the lack of something, but that’s looking at it from the wrong angle. Believe us when we say that it isn’t all bad. When the kids fly the coop, your world is suddenly opened up to a whole new realm of freedoms.
Check it out.
Empty Nest Freedom #1: Cook in your underwear
Actually, you can do anything now in your underwear (or even sans underwear) as long as your neighbors don’t mind. I actually baked cookies in my skivvies the other day. But suffered for it. I leaned too close to the cookie sheet as I was moving the chocolate chip goodies to a cooling rack. I now have a Nike swoop-shaped scar on my muffin top. Be warned.
Empty Nest Freedom #2: Eat carrots and hummus for dinner
Or cheese and crackers. Or peanut butter and jelly. Now that we don’t have to do proper sit-down meals (we were big on spending dinner time together as a family), my husband and I often just fend for ourselves, scavenging in the fridge for leftovers or whatever’s available and not yet covered in fungus.
Empty Nest Freedom #3: Use the grocery store express lane
When my kids were home, the only time I was able to go to the express lane was when I had forgotten something at the store and had to make a rushed second trip, when you’d probably find me muttering to myself about the missed item. Now that my husband and I are grazing like wildebeests on the savannah (see above), we don’t buy as much. The other day, I picked up a few items—some scallops to grill, spinach, tamales, wine, nut mix, asparagus, and almond milk—that would essentially last us for two dinners. The total was $36, and I got to visit with my new best friend Doug, who is regularly manning the express line when I stop by after yoga class.
Empty Nest Freedom #4: Be friends with people you really like
Admit it. Many of the friends you had when your kids were coming up were mothers of their friends. That’s who you’d see at PTA meetings and volleyball games. It was easier to get together with them so that the kids could have someone to hang out with while you did the adult thing. Now that your social circle is completely divorced from your kids’, you can retire some of those friendships. The goddess-in-her-own mind who had too many cosmetic enhancements and always made you feel like a troll for not skipping down the plastic brick road with her. The voracious flirt who always sat a little too close to your husband on the gym bleachers. Gone. Gone. Gone. You now have time to rediscover the people who make you happy.
Empty Nest Freedom #5: Hang out on the toilet
We all know that before there were such things as “man caves,” husbands always had a retreat. The john. That’s where men go to escape from wives, children, demands for affection, wisdom, or money. It’s the fool-proof exemption for any request: “I’m on the toilet!” Women who have kids in the house never get this same pass. Seriously.
Whenever I tried to hide out on the toilet—just grab a bit of solitude with a magazine while I was doing my business—someone would always come knocking on the door. You’d think that there was a sign in the living room saying “occupied” like you see in airplane cabins and that only when it was lit would my sons decide to seek me out about the driver’s license they’d misplaced, or the research paper that was due the next day, or the toe they’d stubbed in soccer practice. “I’m on the toilet,” I’d yell, but that didn’t shut anyone down for me. My sons—up until the day they left for college—would still try to talk to me through the door. “Can. You. Wait. Five. Minutes,” was my usual response. And their usual response was, “NO!” Now I’m free to chill on the potty—with the door open if I want! Often I read a whole New Yorker article while I’m getting a red-ring on my bottom. “Ah,” I think, “this is what it feels like to be a man.”
Empty Nest Freedom #6: Stop worrying about embarrassing your kids
For most of your mothering life, embarrassing your kids has kind of been your job. At least that’s what I always told my boys when they asked me not to gush over them in front of their teachers, or dance in the living room when their friends were visiting, or try to speak Spanish. But now you cannot embarrass them (except when you visit them at college, which is an excellent opportunity). You are free to let out the wine-swilling, twerking, belching (if you must), hairy arm-pitted old coot who has lain dormant inside for a generation.
Empty Nest Freedom #7: Make every night date night
Remember when you had to scour the calendar and look for aligned stars and a non-screen-addicted babysitter to arrange a date night—just to have it all collapse when one of the kids came home from school with white pustules covering her throat? Now there is no planning involved. It’s the default. You and him. Him and you. Once you get over the sheer terror of that, you can have fun. Even a night on the sofa watching a movie can be romantic (plus no concerns about sex scenes the children might see; now you’re actively searching out those fine Hollywood bodies tumbling around in grainy light). Millenials call this kind of date Netflix and Chill. I’m pretty sure their end result is a lot more passionate than what most of us now get at the end of date night. But with any luck, you’ll be making use of that dining room table that’s been just sitting there. Waiting for some action.