|When Does the Empty Nest Begin?
Reflections on the College Search
by Connie Wesley
Does the term empty nest demarcate the time when the last child moves out or when you stop storing all their treasures or junk? If you are longing for the rosy empty nest stage of life, you may find it to be a bit of a moving target. My husband and I have been blessed with four wonderful children. Because of the spread of their ages, 37- and 34-year-old daughters and 27- and 25-year-old sons, however, their growing-up years presented some unique family experiences.
The College Tour
There must always be time for fun. At one college, one son presented us with daffodils he had plucked from the manicured gardens gracing the campus. (That incident wasn’t considered “fun” by all involved, of course.) Once, we were visiting a small school in Ohio and we promised the boys we would have lunch at a local McDonald’s. We soon discovered, to our chagrin, that the town had none. We joked that surely our daughter couldn’t go to a college where there was no local McDonald’s! Upon our return home, our younger son was asked during kindergarten circle time what he did on spring vacation. He volunteered that he went to look at colleges. I’m not certain, but it is highly probable that few of his classmates even knew what a college was!
The number of colleges we visited for our two daughters was extensive, really over the top, and the deluge of information was bewildering. The list included Vassar, Colgate, Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Syracuse, Williams, Skidmore, Oberlin, Swarthmore, Macalester, Wheaton, Carleton, Tufts, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. At the time, we lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and so we were familiar with the University of Michigan. Because we were so immersed in University of Michigan lore, applications to Ohio State or Michigan State were totally out of the question!
Is a Visit Necessary?
It is important to visit schools when students are present: A clearer picture of student life at the college emerges (which is unlikely to happen in the summer). If a particular school is far from home, though, a promise to visit after acceptance is perfectly legitimate. The student’s experience of visiting colleges in general will offer a good perspective when he or she finally sees a school after acceptance. Our second daughter once apologized for not liking one of the colleges we visited. I replied, “That’s great. You can’t go to all the schools we tour—you have to make those decisions!” A “No” is just as important as a “Yes.”
College Tours: Round 2
Then the moment arrived for our younger son’s hunt for the perfect college. We tried to point out to him his current wealth of information on the subject. He had already visited many colleges—small and large schools over a broad geographic area and in a variety of settings, both urban and rural. He had experienced the moving-into-college moments and even two college graduations. This was a “slam dunk,” we thought. He wouldn’t need a college tour. “No way!” was his reply, however. He had (somewhat) patiently endured years of siblings’ college searches, and he wanted his turn. Of course, we enthusiastically set off once again to visit colleges. We added the University of Illinois and MIT and did a repeat of Harvard and University of Michigan. In many ways, this tour was the most delightful. We ate well (no McDonald’s) and tours were calm, with no need for eyes behind our heads to see what the younger children were doing. We were able to have thoughtful conversations about the pros and cons of the colleges, their programs, and campus life. Our son had our complete attention. But is that what a teenager ready to leave home really wants? Some days, yes. Some days, no. Such is parenting!
The empty nest is fun, but so was having them home. Just as they are exploring new directions, so shall you. Besides, you still have all their “stuff” at home to keep you company. Your nest is not empty until they take all their treasures, but do we want the nest to be that empty? I enjoy looking in their rooms and being reminded of so many wonderful shared moments. I don’t want the nest empty—just tidied up. In fact, in some ways one’s nest enlarges as the “children” marry and begin their own families.
Perspectives on the in-person tour:
Connie Wesley, BS, MA, Wheaton College, has finally eased her fourth child into independent life. Her empty nesting activities include working one-on-one with students with disabilities as they are mainstreamed into public schools, quilting, traveling with husband John, and visiting their four children and three grandchildren in Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, and California.
© 2007 Spring Mount Communications