Why I never worry about empty nest syndrome

Earlier this week, Re told me he wants to be a ‘take-carer’ when he grows up. I was amused, and asked him what that was. He replied, “It means I will take care of you when I grow up.”

I have no idea where that came from. Perhaps it is from the fact that we now have my mother around, so there is a constant shift in balance of who takes care of whom. So there is Re who looks after his babies (Dipsy and her baby, various princesses, Pooh, Bertie, Twilight and the gang) and occasionally, doubles as their doctor when it’s time for their checkups (ever since he took a shine to Doc McStuffins). There is my mother, who looks after the cats, Re and me in turns. And lastly there is me who looks after Re (when he will allow me), and my mother (when she will allow me or when it comes to doctors or paperwork or airports and other outside world negotiations that she cannot be bothered with). So there are three generations simultaneously playing out roles of child and parent and quickly reversing them with great felicity. But in the overlap of these roles is a lovely, fuzzy comfort zone where we are just ourselves, with no tags attached.

Re is taking his future ‘take-carer’ role rather seriously. He’s been holding doors for me and my mother and fetching our slippers when we can’t find them. He is the chief locator of my mother’s reading glasses and my phone, and the presser of lift buttons and the answerer of doorbells and telephones. So far, so good, I thought.

I watched Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (it could well have been called Motherhood) a few months ago, and it’s a movie that moved me deeply. The movie was made over 12 years, in real time, and films the coming of age of two children and their parents, as they individually and collectively go through some big and small upheavals. Patricia Arquette’s remarkable portrayal of Olivia, the doughty single mother in the film who is struggling to keep her family together fetched her an Oscar for best supporting actress this year.

“I just thought there would be more”, she says in an emotionally intense last scene, as Mason, her screen son is leaving home to go to college. In that one scene, she manifests the empty-nest syndrome as a full-blown existential crisis. She talks about her life as a series of milestones revolving around men, marriage, babies, career and raising kids and at the end of all this, there is a sense of bankruptcy which is so palpable. That scene encapsulates with minimal words the gritty and sobering nature of motherhood, the story of mothers who live for their children and completely lose purpose without them.

A few months ago, Re and I were riding with a PYT who was visibly intrigued that I chose to be a mother when I was 40 and clearly youth and sprightliness (the two ingredients most marketed for motherhood by the media and doctors) were not on my side. I told her it was all in the mind and my mind has never been as fertile as it is now, so clearly my child is at an advantage, because there is no angst of having to spend my ‘youth’ rearing a child.

She didn’t get it, and said, “But the gap between you and your child is so much!”

I then realized our vocabulary was different. She was a checklist girl and I was a follow-your-heart girl. So yes, the fact is that I will be 60 when Re is 20. And I will be 80 when Re is 40. But then, it is still math. Life is something else. I would like to meet her at 40 (if I am still around) and compare notes once again, but for now, I am going to let it go. Because we all plot our coordinates and figure the optimum time to do this and that when life is stealthily creeping up on us, and the funny thing is, even if you do everything by the book, there absolutely no guarantee that you will get it right. We are all winging it, as Ethan Hawke says in the movie. And the beauty of not knowing what comes next is a huge facilitator.

But I can say this with complete confidence that I will never be high and dry one day when he is all grown up and flown the nest, wondering if there should have been more. Because there will be more. There will be me.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 11th May, 2015)

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2 thoughts on “Why I never worry about empty nest syndrome

  1. yes, there will be Me for me too.
    i have never even imagined that i would need my child as a care giver, and i hope this will be so too.
    i have not let life revolve around child,husband,…anyone, so totally that i may feel a sense of bankruptcy (hopefully i won’t in reality as well..)..
    my identity does not come from anyone else. I am me. thats it. no validations needed really…so empty nest seems a concept, and not a reality, as of now….! i would add a rider here- we do not know what the future holds though….

  2. I differ a bit, ‘Me’ has large parts of someone else’s growing up and my own growing as part of it, when that part is over, there will be a void, a void that will make me cry and feel broken-hearted for sure. But even a void allows life to continue anyway, that is the assurance I have.

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