An Empty Nest to Build On
With both children in college, the author reconnects with her husband
By Kathleen M. Gallagher
When my husband, Joe, and I got married in 1987, my mother gave us a binder to hold all our favorite recipes. She had written inside the front cover:
“To Kathy & Joe,
Here is my recipe for you – Mix together generous portions of laughter, patience, sacrifice, trust, faith and love for a successful marriage. Love, Mom”
On a recent lazy afternoon, I decided to clean up our recipe book. More than 24 years of cooking has taken its toll: torn, tomato sauce-stained pages, ragged clippings ripped from magazines stuffed in the pockets, smudged ink on handwritten instructions for specialty dishes. I threw out all the unused recipes, rewrote the unreadable ones, and used those tiny white stick-on circles to reinforce each and every hole-punched page. The book looks like new!
As I sat back to admire my handiwork, it suddenly hit me: just like our recipe book, marriage needs reinforcements, too.
Joe and I saw our two sons head off to college last month and we find ourselves alone – together – in our “empty nest” for the very first time. The good-byes were difficult; it seems like only yesterday we were rocking them to sleep, teaching them the alphabet, dabbing peroxide on their bruised knees. Joe and I have been there for all the firsts – first steps, first words, first loose tooth, First Communion, first Little League hit, first failed road test, first date, first college acceptance letter. Now we have survived the first day of college for Joey and Michael.
And in two different cities, on two separate campuses, each of our boys remarked, “What are you guys gonna do without us?”
Well, it’s a whole new adventure, and we’re diving right in. Joe has registered for a non-credit college course in archeology, something he’s always wanted to study. I have signed up for a watercolor painting class. Joe’s reading the history and military books he enjoys so much; I’ve got my mystery novels to take me away from all that reality.
Together, we’ve joined a health club where we run the treadmill and ride the bikes side-by-side at least two nights a week. We’re looking into the possibility of traveling, maybe even a cruise. We eat together, pray together and walk the dog together every day.
The walks are long; we talk a lot. Sure, we talk about the boys, how much we miss them, hope for them, fear for them. We trust that the values we have tried to instill early on have taken root and will kick in when they need them. We know they must make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. We believe their faith will sustain them.
But more than the boys, we talk about each other, possible career changes, downsizing, health habits. Sometimes it’s just surface talk about politics or the weather, sprinkled with jokes and laughter. Oftentimes it’s reflective, deep, substantive conversation. I find I am listening more, hearing more, learning more about my husband than I ever knew before. There is less distraction, less busy-ness, less noise between us. The pace of life has decelerated, leaving more time to focus, appreciate, apologize, forgive, enjoy.
And I can feel the reinforcement. My marriage is enriched, strengthened with fresh additions and a new perspective. Some of our walks feel downright intimate!
I’m not naïve; I know that married life is full of challenges. There will be difficult times as well as joyous times ahead, both heartache and elation. But even in the most trying of circumstances, we know God’s grace will see us through. He is the glue that ties our bond.
Yes, it’s only been a few short weeks without the kids. But I’m looking forward to what’s to come. Only God knows what he’s got cooking for us.
Kathleen Gallagher is the Catholic Advocacy Network Director and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy organization of the New York state bishops.