Getting Real About My Empty Nest

photo-20For some it’s the concerts, plays, sports or parent teacher conferences they miss most – I miss reading children’s books…

I miss reading children’s books. Recently I found myself pining for Corduroy, Sandra Boynton’s The Going To Bed Book crew and The Velveteen Rabbit. I’ll often ask my children, “Do you remember Mooncake? My son and I still reminisce about Goodnight Moon, a story about nothing and everything that matters in a child’s life – routine, consistency and love.

I read every Madeline book created, including all the spinoffs. At three years old, my daughter could recite the lines to an entire Madeline book. Yet, secretly I knew I loved the story more than she did, I swooned over the rhyming, the symmetry and the charming Parisian scenes. I still remember the night I read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. When I finished reading, tears streaming down my face, I turned to see my daughter’s reaction and she was fast asleep. What a beautiful timeless story of tolerance and redemption.

I gladly ditched all the colorful plastic in my home years ago, you won’t find a Lego anywhere in sight. Thomas the trains are packed away in the attic and American Girl doesn’t live here anymore. Yet, the books are still here and hold my most cherished memories. I’ll never forget the excitement in my children’s faces when Edward Tulane fell overboard in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or when Corduroy, ripped overalls and all, was finally loved.

For some it’s the concerts, plays, sports or parent teacher conferences – nope won’t miss any of that. My nest will be empty next year and passing by their bookcases gives me the most pause. In Barnes and Noble I want to jump up and down in the children’s section, where I spent so much time, but now I begrudgingly pass by. I didn’t cry a river when I dropped my daughter off at college last year but show me a Madeline book and I can make it happen. My kids have outgrown bears that come alive in department stores and talking rabbits. Reading to my kids will always be the most magical and treasured moments of my life. These characters filled up rainy days, sick days, good days and bad – days of exhaustion when reading was the last thing I wanted to do and days I had limitless energy. So they’ve long outgrown the wonder of childhood books but I hope they’ll always honor the hope, wonder, reflection and joy a great story can bring. I couldn’t say it better myself, so here’s a favorite passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I’ll always be a parent but the path of parenting children is nearing its end for me and I do feel “Real.”

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