I've long heard the phrase: "the empty nest." It has always seemed distant.
Now it is here. I'm in it.
Here's how it feels.
I am empty headed.
Not calm-headed. (Calm-headed is great. That happens, too, but this is different.)
This is empty headed.
An emerging Vistage chair said last week, "I'd like to live a week in your mind."
"There's room," I said. "Suddenly, there is a lot of vacancy."
Here's What Happened
Twenty-two years ago, when our older child was born, that newborn infant made some sort of noise. "Erp."
Or something like that. A noise that babies make.
Alisa and I looked at each other. Instant collaboration. Based on natural fear.
"Was that erp?" one of us asked. "What does erp mean?"
"What are we supposed to do?" replied the other. "What do we do when we hear erp?"
"Dunno," we said to each other.
One of us — probably Alisa — devised a quick response. "Here's what I think it means. Here's what I think we should do."
"Are you sure?"
"No. Do you have a better suggestion?"
"No. Go for it."
She went for it.
After Alisa responded, we looked at the baby. "Was that the right thing for us to do?" one of us asked.
"I don't know," replied the other. "I think so. Dunno."
The Reactive Parenting Model
While there were countless examples of offense — buying books, bicycles, food, and thousands of other proactive decisions -- there was also a lot of defense. Parenting by reaction.
We reacted to stimuli.
For 22 years (from the arrival of the girl to the departure of the boy), we would hear a noise — from the first erp in labor and delivery to the final closing click of a car door in San Luis Obispo — and wonder, "What does that mean? What do we do? [Do something.] Was that the right reaction?"
That's 22 years of stimulus ➔ wonderment ➔ reaction ➔ assessment. The Reactive Parenting Model.
And Suddenly: Quiet.
When the nest was finally, recently emptied of the hatchlings, Alisa said, "I feel like I have more energy."
Makes sense. We aren't listening for stimuli. We aren't collaborating to interpret it. We aren't reacting to it. We aren't assessing (and second-guessing) our performance.
Suddenly: quiet. No stimulus.
It is as if we've just removed an earbud that we've been wearing for 22 years.
I know this is true, because we recently enjoyed our first FaceTime with the college boy.
Alisa and I sat side-by-side on the couch. He spoke about his adventures and we eagerly listened.
At one point, Alisa responded to something.
I found myself looking at her, hearing her words. I was listening to her — and I was thinking, "Are her words responsive to his erp? Is this the time to say those words? Are they the best reaction?"
It was as if the earbud was back in my ear. My energy had returned to collaborative stimulus ➔ wonderment ➔ reaction ➔ assessment. Old habit, still strong.
When the call was finished...
Quiet. Vacancy. Computational capacity available.