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An Empty Nest

Who are you, now?

By E.N. GusslerPublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 5 min read

Eighty-one days after my 20th birthday, I became a mom. Three hundred and seventy days after that, I welcomed my second child, just eighty-six days after my 21st birthday. Being a young parent certainly had its advantages. Loads of energy to chase after two toddlers, for one. But it had disadvantages too. I didn't have the same experiences as other 20-somethings. I was fortunate, however, to have a handful of other 20-something moms to spend time with. Our world was different than most women our age, but we built our own experiences and grew up together as much as our children did.

My college years began at the age of fourteen, but I took a break at eighteen that lasted until I was twenty-three. I finally finished my degree at thirty-seven, graduating with students who were fifteen years younger than I was. I spent much of my time in college feeling like the outsider. Closer in age to professors than students, I often wasn't invited for study groups, lunch, or coffee breaks. That is, until I met a fellow redhead in the back of a speculative fiction class at Ohio State.

I had just had spine surgery, three weeks prior to the start of the semester, so with a back brace under my sweatshirt, the far back corner near the door was my preferred spot. We didn't talk much the first couple classes, both of us just feeling out the vibe of the class and other students. We opted to work together, along with one other student, a very talkative guy somewhere between the two of us in age. We all had similar, but not identical, perspectives on the writings we read, so discussions were interesting. They never treated me the way that other students did. Comments weren't made about my age, and I was invited for coffee or lunch between classes.

Although my college experience wasn't the same as the majority, nor was it how you see in film and on television, I grew and found my place in it. College allowed me to have a space where I wasn't "mom". It provided me the ability to rediscover who I was in at least one aspect of my life. I have always been a studious, overachiever...and I realized that I was okay with it.

I always kind of struggled to figure out where and how I fit into groups, though. So I guess I faced the awkwardness of college as an adult with high schoolers of my own, the way I've always faced adversity. Growing up I was "too loud", "too friendly", "too talkative", "a know it all" (which I realize now, just meant that I liked to share all the tidbits of knowledge I gathered with people who might find it interesting too), and "too dramatic". I fought to be seen as talented, to be considered smart, and to be liked. I often was chastised, ridiculed, teased, falsely accused, gossiped about, and excluded. And this was true about the majority. However, I always had a handful of friends who were the same way, or were the really quiet and shy ones to balance me out.

When you spend all of your 20s as a parent, and your whole life revolves around them, it is easy to lose sight of the person you were becoming. I know that in many ways that was true for me. It wasn't until I got divorced at twenty-four that I started to discover who I was again. I was fortunate to start dating my (current) husband when I was twenty-six and finally have a partner in life who has never tried to change me or mold me into his idea of "perfection".

Even through all of that though, starting to figure out who you are or what you want for yourself, it is so easy to push things to the side and allow your entire existence to revolve around your children. But what about when they move out? What happens when they fly away and leave the nest to be their own adult selves? Is this when you start to figure out what life is supposed to look like?

Is NOW when you finally start to LIVE your life again?

I didn't want to wait until I was nearly forty to feel like I had "my life" back. So, while my kids were in high school, I rebuilt the parts of my life and my personality that didn't revolve around them. Of course, they were still important and the priority, but I didn't ignore or avoid doing things without them. There comes a point in life when our kids grow up, they move out, and we are left with our spouse, or an empty house. We can't wait until then to have a new identity. We have to build and grow that identity while they are still with us. Not just for ourselves but for them!

Think about it. What are we teaching them? Are we going to teach them that they have to lose all sense of individuality and personality if they choose to have children? Are we going to teach them that their only value is in raising children and that beyond that, they no longer matter? Of course not! We want them to live their lives and never forget that they have value outside of what they give or do for others.

Why then, do we allow ourselves to place our own merit, value, and identity on what we are, what we do, or what we give to others?

I was me before I was a mother, before I was a wife. That "me" can change however and whenever I feel like it, but she does not cease to be. I didn't want my children to have their entire sense of self depend on anyone else. Not their friends, not their significant other, not their, I had to lead by example. I wanted to like myself, when my role as "mother" changed into "mom of adult children" and I didn't want to wander listlessly as I scratched out a makeshift personality in the meantime. So hard as it was, I let them go their own way, so that I could also figure out my own again.

So, now that we have had an empty nest for the last six years, who am I?

I'm a jack of all trades and a master of gathering knowledge. A singer, a writer, photographer, adventure seeker, and world traveler. I'm kind, compassionate, generous, and loving. I'm silly, a little weird, and bright with a bit of darkness. A cacophony of contradictions, I have a style and a voice that are uniquely mine. I'm emotional, quiet, loud, and everything in between. A book dragon, I devour books and hoard them. I do not fit a mold, and I don't really want to. I'm sensitive with a protective shell that I hide behind because I have been hurt by people in the past, but it isn't difficult to break through, if someone really cares to. I'm a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.

My husband and my kids are the best parts of me, but they aren't the whole of me.


About the Creator

E.N. Gussler

Writer. Photographer. World-traveler. Adventurer. Ohio State Alum.

A California native living in Ohio, I pull inspiration from my travels & life around me.


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