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The Glimpse Of My Future That Made Me Cry

Before long, everything will stop.

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illustration of momma bird in nest as younger birds fly away by kelsey wroten
Kelsey Wroten
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For almost 20 years I’ve started nearly every day taking care of my two children. When they were newborns, I’d change their diapers and nurse them. When they were toddlers, I’d put them in their high chairs with a sippy cup and feed them mashed avocado or Cheerios.

Within a few years the breakfast routine was combined with packing lunches, checking on homework and getting out the door in time to catch the bus or drive to school. Mornings have always been hectic, have sometimes involved screaming or tears, and have usually ended with me in my nightgown and slippers, herding my son and daughter into the car to get them to school on time.

My husband was there, too, floating on the perimeter with his cup of coffee and briefcase, then rushing out the door to catch a train or taxi.

We had a plan, he and I. Once the kids were grown and launched, we’d take up golf, buy a beach house in Thailand, focus on us again. We planned to decide where to retire based on where the kids lived so we could be near them. Divorce wasn’t part of the plan, but eight years ago my husband had other ideas, so I became a single mother to my 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. It was a very difficult and painful period for us all, but we came through it and I learned to cope on my own.

Then last fall my daughter went away to college, and I got an early glimpse of my future as an empty nester. I came home from dropping her off, stood in her room looking at the mess she’d left behind, and cried. We’d spent years fighting over the state of her room, but at that moment I felt sadness and regret for wasting so much time arguing over something that now seemed so trivial. It hit me then that my little girl was gone. Sure, she would come home on school vacations, but our first stage as mother and daughter was over.

This past September my daughter began her sophomore year at college and my son started his junior year of high school, and the countdown clock clicked in my head. I suddenly became acutely aware that I had a little less than two years with my son at home, and I felt a creeping depression at the thought of being an empty nester by myself.

Though I miss her terribly I’ve adapted to my daughter being away, but part of the adjustment is that my son and I have settled into our own routine. I still make him breakfast every morning, and we eat dinner together when he gets home from rehearsal in the evening. At the end of the night we often watch an episode of Nailed It or Kids Baking Championship, or he shows me funny videos on YouTube.

Because I work from home, my son is often the only person I interact with. In 18 months he’ll be gone. It’s hard to wrap my head around that, but when I do I feel sad and slightly terrified. Being a single working mother is hard work. There’s never enough time. The house is never clean enough. Pizza often replaces my well-planned dinners. We’re always rushing from one activity to the next.

One day in the not-too-distant future everything will stop. The house will grow quiet, and I’ll finally have time to clean out the kitchen junk drawer. But I’ll be alone — for the first time in two and a half decades. Seven days a week for 20 years — that’s 7,300 days — have started with me taking care of my kids.

On the morning my son moves on to the next phase of his education, I’ll make him breakfast and try not to cry. And then I’ll move on to the next phase of my own education. A friend recently said that I’ll have to figure out who I want to be. That’s a daunting thought, but one that brings a sliver of hope and promise. I’ve been defined as a mother for two decades, and I’m proud of that, but I admit I’m a little curious to find out who and what else I am. Maybe I’ll buy a beach house in Thailand and take up golf.