When I moved away from my hometown for the first time, I was worried. Not for me, that much, I was confident in where I was going and what I would be doing – but I worried about my parents.
You see, growing up my parents were the kind of super-parents who made childrearing a full time job. They paid attention to our grades, stayed up till we were home when we went out at night, grounded us the (many) times we goofed up, ferried us to and from activities, and went to every single performance or sports game we had. If my siblings and I were a sports team – my parents were fierce (and fiercely affectionate) coaches who trained us to take on adult life.
Because my parents were such a solid parenting team, and because they did it well, I kinda assumed it was their favorite thing to do. That’s why, when I moved away, I worried about them – concerned that without their children they’d get sad, or bored, or both.
Then one night I came home and saw that my parents now had a new routine where they made appetizers and hand-crafted cocktails for each other. They went to art shows. They traveled to London for their anniversary. They had couple friends and got tickets to theater and went for long walks with the dog in the park. In short, they didn’t spend all their time missing us – they were too busy making up for the time they missed out on with each other.
I wish I could say that I was instantly relieved and delighted, but really, I felt a little bit left out. My parents, my parents, were traveling and trying out new restaurants and not mooning around just missing me? Was I not central to their life? Were they not, in some small way, feeling unemployed now that parenting wasn’t their main job?
Then after that, I felt guilty – had I been getting in the way of my parents doing things that were fun? Was there a chance that they’d rather have been going to professional shows instead of watching my amateur acting? Were they now, finally, leading the lives that they wanted – since we weren’t there to get in the way?
Luckily, though, it didn’t take long for my guilt gave way to gratitude, and my selfishness to realizing I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In this second chapter of my parent’s marriage, they’re not just surviving but thriving. And though they no longer help me with my homework, they still teach me daily by their example. I learn from them how even a marriage with deep sturdy roots can grow into a new beginning. I learn that even relationships 25 years long can find a new routine. And I learn how a team can tackle new challenges when its main goal is togetherness. Instead of being anxious empty nesters – my parents lead full lives, and encourage me to live more fully, too.