When my daughter moved out, my husband and I entered the dreaded empty nest phase of life. I hated that term. It made us sound sad and old, like the best part of life had passed us by.
Although I missed my daughter, I didn’t wallow in self-pity or hang out in her empty room. Our life was a little quiet, but full.
My husband and I enjoyed the freedom of being able to go places at the spur of the moment. We enjoyed impromptu weekends away. We had sex with the door open. We could be as loud as we wanted because it was just us in the house. It was a little like being newlyweds again.
But I felt a void.
My husband chalked it up to not having someone to fuss over. My daughter hadn’t needed much from me during her last years at home. She was so self-sufficient that I didn’t expect to miss her that much when she left, but I did.
I missed being needed, even if it was just a little. I felt inexplicably directionless. My days were full, busy…happy even. But something was missing.
My husband and I didn’t marry until we were in our 40s, after my fertility had stomped out of the building. We'd discussed adoption in vague terms when we first married, talking about how nice it would be to parent together.
Our conversations about adoption never really went anywhere and it seemed he’d be content with being a stepdad. Even though I’d always regretted not having more kids I didn’t have a strong desire to have more at this point in my life.
I've always felt a pull toward adoption. My brother and a handful of my cousins are adopted so growing up, I saw adoption as a normal way to add kids to the family.
During most of my 20s and 30s I was a struggling single mom and adoption was beyond my budget and also beyond the scope of what I’d have been able to handle, but it was something I thought about a lot over the years. By the time I hit my 40s, the desire had fizzled.
About a year after my daughter moved out, I met a woman named Jenny who had a Chinese-born daughter. What I’m about to say now makes no sense but when I saw this mother and daughter together, I had an “aha” kind of moment and I knew in an instant that I would also adopt a child from China.
I know that doesn’t make sense but as much as I've tried to rationalize it over the years, I really can't do better than “aha moment.” That might seem lame but when I saw Jenny and her child together, the path I was supposed to be on became a little clearer. Cheesy, huh?
I asked Jenny a few questions…and by a few I mean about 392. She was gracious enough not to think I was a nosy asshole and pointed me in the right direction. She even held my hand through the unholy amount of paperwork that goes along with international adoption. I will always be thankful I found her. I believe she changed my life without intending to and her never-ending patience with my many, many questions helped preserve some of the sanity I still possessed.
To begin the parenting journey again at 45 and 49 was a different story. Although the paperwork was tedious and the waiting was brutal, none of that compares to the actual process of adjusting to having a new child in your family, when you're a couple that's a little…ahem…older and set in their ways.
Our son was 26 months old when he was placed in our arms for the first time and we were immediately thrust into a world of poop, snot, and loud toys. He turned our life upside down in a good way. In a crazy tired good way.
Our second son joined joined our family a year later. Today, we have two 5-year-olds. My husband and I are 49 and 52 and we are the oldest parents with the youngest kids everywhere we go. Our boys are just four months apart. Life is good. Loud and sticky, but good.
Becoming parents at midlife has been a wild ride and if you’d have told me 20 years ago that I’d be facing my fifties with two kids in kindergarten, I’d have laughed at you.
Parenthood at this stage of life will either keep us young or drive us into an early grave. I use more hair color and get less sleep but I smile more and worry less about what other people think.
We get a lot of "Wow, how great that you've adopted" with the unspoken "at your age." I've also been asked if I was the grandma, which wasn't one of my top 10 life moments.
I'm not suggesting the answer to the empty nest is to go out and have more kids, but for us it was. My back creaks and squeaks when I bend over to give baths. When one of my boys informs me (and when I say informs me, I mean yells in my ear at close range) that it's "not dark outside" at the butt-crack of dawn, I realize exactly how old I am, down to the minute.
I wake up sometimes (usually at 3 a.m. because there's a little foot in my kidney) and marvel at the direction my life has taken. No, I didn't expect this life in my almost 50s.
But, I figure I've bought myself another 10 years or so of driving carpools, attending soccer practices and fielding "but whys." Maybe this second act of motherhood is helping me cheat age. Maybe I’m a little crazy. Most people greet midlife by taking up a new hobby: crocheting. Tennis. Bungee jumping. I didn’t chose the traditional path but I’m owning my choice…rocking it, even.
This is my story. The rest unwritten, but I’m sure it’s fabulous. Tiring, but fabulous.