Empty Nest x 2

I was a young wife, 16 to be exact. I married a young Navy Sailor and 4-months after our wedding we packed up and moved from suburban Philadelphia to Zion, Illinois so my husband could attend the North Chicago Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

Zion Illinois Map


What an adventure it was. I had done a lot of traveling by air because my father worked for the airlines but I had never been on such a long road trip. Who knew Pennsylvania was SO big? We drove through the state of Ohio during a blizzard and a wind storm all through Indiana.

We stayed in a motel in Chicago for 4-weeks. The Navy’s housing assistance office found us an apartment on the second floor of an old lake front house. To the front and the left the property was beautiful. To the left was the Zion Nuclear Power Plant.

Zion Nuclear Power Plant

I spent my days walking the beach, often with our landlord’s 10-year-old daughter and our old border collie.

One week before our 9-month anniversary I gave birth to a beautiful, chubby baby girl. I was 17. It was the happiest day of my life.

2 children later and in my early 20’s I was a single mom and I stayed that way for many years.

My 2 oldest daughters went 2 ½ hours away for high-school. High school! How unfair was that? I had no idea how helpful they were to me until they were gone. I drove the 2 ½ hours up and back nearly every weekend to either bring them home or just to visit with them. I was such a young empty-nester and didn’t know anyone that was going through the same thing. I handled it so poorly that my 2 younger kids promised me they would complete their educations close to home.

We are blessed here in Pennsylvania with some of the nation’s best schools. The older girls graduated high-school and with the other 2 continued their educations closer to home.

I was terrified when my son joined the military and then my youngest daughter moved out at the same time. I experienced a deep depression and felt so lonely.

There was no one I knew that was going through what I was going through.

I desperately missed seeing my family room floor covered with sleeping or groggy teenagers because our house was the neighborhood hangout. I missed the empty glasses and the crust from sandwiches in their rooms and the loud music. How was it possible I missed their hip-hop music and dancing? I even missed those frustrating mornings when it was so hard to wake them and get them out the door for school.

I spent a lot of time remembering those first days with my baby girl. Shortly after she was born we left Chicago and moved to Newport, Rhode Island. Being a Navy wife I was alone with her for months and months at a time. I was more accepted by the Navy wives in Newport than I had been in Chicago so it was easier to make friends.


She was a good traveler, so many weekends we would travel down I-95 to visit family and friends in Philadelphia. She rode in a laundry basket beside me. It seems so bizarre now.

Our Navy housing was right on the beautiful Narragansett Bay so we had our share of house guests too. I missed my husband when he was gone but I was never lonely.

Newport Bridge Sailboats

21-years after having my first baby girl, that girl had a baby girl and made me a grandmother at the age of 38. What a special day that was. I was overwhelmed with love for her. Most of my friends still had young children at home so suddenly we had something to talk about again. More importantly my daughter needed me again. How sad is that? I missed being needed more than anything.

Doreen w 5 generations

                   5 generations

The next 18-years were filled with the joy of 12 more grandchildren and the sorrow of lost loved ones. I met a married a wonderful man and moved an hour away. That was hard to get used to. The years flew by.

When Allyson, my first granddaughter decided she wanted to go away for school I was happy for her but my heart was hurting. I was scared for her. It seemed like every day there was another tragedy on a campus somewhere. She graduated at 17 so I wasn’t surprised when the time approached for her to leave and she had a complete meltdown. She was angry because no one taught her how to run the dishwasher or do laundry.

She started t-ball and then playing softball at 7. Her schedule was so full with sports and extra- curricular activities that none of us even noticed the kid never even made her bed. My daughter and her husband worked full time and coached. It was easier for them to just get things done.

Adriana T'Ball Practice

It was a hard lesson learned for all of us. We won’t make that mistake again. The younger kids all have chores and they love learning to cook.

Allyson ended up taking a year off and then going to community college for 2-years. She learned to cook, clean and do laundry. She got a job and then an internship.

My heart stopped when she announced she was applying to schools. It was time though. We all needed to let her go. It was hard seeing that empty nest look in my daughter’s eyes. This is a big year for her. Her little boy is starting high school and her baby girl is starting first grade. That’s a lot of change.

Dom Adriana Allyson Dab

The chances are great that our big close family is headed to being a long distance one. I don’t think it’s possible for all these kids to want to stay so close to home, so close to me.

When someone tells me their grandchildren live clear across the country my heart aches for them and I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to be there for all of our grandchildren’s firsts.

Most of my friends are experiencing empty nest for the first time. I plan to do the best I can to help them through and to keep them from being lonely.

For me, I’ve gotten another reprieve. Allyson is going away but her University is 15-minutes from my house. She’s become so independent over the last two years. I’m totally (I hope) prepared to rarely hear from her but I take comfort in knowing I’m here if she needs me.

Allyson first day of college

I’m stocking up on Tide and Downy in case she wants to come over to do laundry:)



10 Responses to “Empty Nest x 2”

  • Wow you were so young and yet you coped so well! I can’t imagine what it would be like to be as far down the parent/grandparent trail as you are. You have been blessed to have them all near-ish to you for seeing them regularly and now a granddaughter only 15 mins away – more blessings. Loved this post Doreen x

  • Allyson is so beautiful! I hope you get two get to enjoy some late night laundry sessions and girl talk.

  • You are the best mother/grandmother I know. My experiences are very different. Maybe because I have sons, I don’t know. I encouraged them to be independent and not expect me to have an open door forever. Now that they have children we try to see them as often as we can, but it’s a road trip either way.
    Your granddaughter is gorgeous, btw!

  • I am so blessed. Five of six children live in the same town and ALL of my 17 grandchildren. I do recognise, in this modern age, how fortunate I am and know things could change very quickly as jobs change and grandchildren grow. So, for right now, I’m basking in the glow and praying it will never end!

  • This was so hard for my own mother, too. The days of family staying nearby are long gone.

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