I may be in my 50s, but as I joke to my students, I say, "I'm really a young old teacher." I'm only 10 years into my career, and most of my friends at school are in their early 30s, either having recently married or they are having babies.
As the more experienced one in the group, I offer advice about newborn sleeping patterns (they really don't exist, because as soon as it becomes a pattern, it changes) and how to best potty train a stubborn 2-year-old little boy (buy a stepstool – it works, although I have no idea why).
I am happy to listen to my friends who are enjoying (and occasionally complaining about) their babies and toddlers. As I listen to their stories about sleepless nights, first steps and the everyday miracles of watching babies grow, I find myself in the curious position of missing the daily routines that made up those days: the countless times I read "Goodnight Moon" and "Where the Wild Things Are"; the baby smell of a soft, downy head; my daughter's first words and my son's Lego-building ability. And I wonder, how did I get to this stage of life, already?
I have raised three wonderful, almost independent children who are now 25, 22 and 18. I have survived divorce, and as a single mom, I somehow managed to go back to school, get a job and still be there when my children needed me. I say this less with a feeling of accomplishment and more with a feeling of relief – and indeed, I do feel lucky.
I am at a time in my life when anything is possible, and ironically, I have no idea what comes next. I don't have to drive to baseball practice or pick up a teenager from her part-time job. I don't have to have dinner on the table in time to get to the varsity basketball game. I don't need to check homework or worry about the everyday drama that goes on with girls in high school. I can do exactly what I want, but I have no idea what that is!
I have to be honest. I thought that by now, my "empty nest" might be filled with a person with whom I could share my life. I never would have expected that I would have spent the last year going on more first dates than I could count, each time hoping that a mutually desired second date would follow. Match.com might advertise "more dates, more relationships and more marriages" than any other online dating site, but they never tell you that "49fitforlife" and "hardbodyrick" are really overweight and bald, or that "charmingprince" looks like he's searched with too many glass slippers.
Really? Did he think I wouldn't notice that he was over 60 and at least 30 pounds overweight, and that even if his profile says he's 5-foot-11, he looks more like 5-foot-6?
And so here I am, reminiscing about the days when my children were small, when their immediate concerns came before my own needs, when a lost pink blankie was more important than a disappointing first date. I remember all the moments that made up my children's lives, from the smallest accomplishment, like learning how to tie a sneaker, to defining moments in competitive sports.
Yet, in looking back at those days, it isn't those moments that I miss the most. It is the sense of family that exists when children are small, the daily routines that create family life, and most important, the family that exists before divorce.
I may not know what comes next, but I do know that I am a survivor. I believe that in a given moment – not unlike those moments that create memories – life can change; a new family can form.
And so I look forward to the unexpected. Perhaps someday, I will find someone to help fill my empty nest – someone who has a sense of optimism and a sense of adventure – someone like me.