As you wrote so eloquently last week, it can be hard to cope with Empty Nest Syndrome. Amen to that! For the last couple of weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has looked like a Lifetime movie, with emotional moms and dads bidding bittersweet farewells to their college-bound offspring. The parents are all my age or younger. They post about how much they will miss their kids, how empty their houses will seem and how quickly time has flown. It almost makes me feel guilty about looking forward to the first day of school and a few hours of freedom. Almost. Currently, I am surrounded by Crayola boxes, glue sticks and sibling rivalry.
I wonder how many of us are suffering from the unique plight of the Older Parent with School-Aged Children. And I am not talking about those moms with multi-generational children, whose children’s school ages range from post-doctorate work to pre-school. Also, if the only O.P. in question is the dad, it doesn’t count. Nope, I’m talking about straight-up late bloomers who didn’t even get started on baby number one until the specter of 40 was looming nearby.
Sure, I spent my 20s and 30s in a whirlwind of fairly carefree travel, wide-open weekends and self-indulgent handbag purchases (sorry, Shoe Gals). I remember visiting you with school age kids, and, as so often happens in life, it seemed like such an ideal existence. Now, the tables have turned and all I can think is, “Gee, I really should have traveled more.”
You may know some O.P.s, other than yours truly, and I urge you to show the compassion and understanding due these poor souls, yearning to breathe free. If you know anyone who can answer “Yes” to these questions, they are probably an O.P.:
- Have you ever mixed up your school volunteer form with an AARP solicitation?
- Are you frequently mistaken for your child’s grandparent? (more on how this can work for you later)
- Have you ever had an O.P. “time meld”, such as, but not limited to, excusing yourself from Back-to-School Night because of hot flashes?
- Are you the only parent in your child’s class that does not have visible tattoos or wear a straw fedora?
- Is the appeal of “‘80s Retro Night” completely lost on you?
- Are songs that you listened to in high school now playing in the supermarket when you shop?
I freely admit being an O.P. is not all bad. While watching cadres of 30-something parents agonizing in the hallway over Common Core or standardized testing, I realize that we don’t tend to sweat the small stuff like good grades, good schools, class rank, college. We want our kids to learn and do their best, but having been out there a while, we know not every success story graduates from the Ivy League. We have seen just as many successful people who graduated from Random State U.
Secondly, we have a different viewpoint on volunteering (Thank you, Junior League! That Sustainer status is no joke). Here is mine in four easy steps:
- You got skills. Rather than volunteering at an event, offer to donate a unique career skill that is more flexible with your schedule.
- Negotiate. For example, “If you would like my F-1 tickets for your silent auction, I will stay home and sleep in during the mandatory 6 a.m. event set-up time.”
- Delegate. Example: “Sorry, I would love to help with Messy Science Day but I am out of town on business. Perhaps Bitsy’s grandmother could step in for me?” Of course, here you may have to explain that you are not the grandparent. Or, you can let the school think you are the grandparent and promise to pass a message on to your slacker daughter-in-law, getting out of the chore entirely. Whatever works for you.
- Finally, if all else fails, write a check.
Personally, I am comforted that Older Parents are not a new phenomenon. The Bible has some famous O.P.s: Sarah and Abraham, Rebekah and Isaac, and Elizabeth and Zechariah. Two things we all share with our biblical counterparts are gratitude and wonder at being made parents so late in life. For many of us, finally becoming parents was our first experience of the miraculous. For me, it was the first time I truly let go and trusted God. So, for all my aches and pains and discomfort, I also have the wisdom to step back and enjoy our family now. Hopefully, I won’t wonder where the time went in a few years but will have experienced it to the fullest. I can sleep later. After all, God doesn’t want us to be too complacent and our kids are a certain remedy for that. I often joke that by the time the kids are out of college, we will be in assisted living. There is a kernel of truth in this. I think all parents share the same wish, regardless of age: I pray I will be around to see my kids be happy adults and help them establish their adult lives. As Elizabeth said, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
Love and enjoy your off-season travel,