It happens eventually, whether anticipated or dreaded. At some point all the kids move out and the house seems empty. Waiting up to hear the front door open as someone returns from a date is a thing of the past. Shopping in bulk to fill the fridge is no longer a necessity. Nagging about homework, checking grades, picking up sports equipment around the house, first days of school, a toddler's first steps and changing diapers are all left behind. Now what?

When our baby moved out and got married my husband and I agreed we would miss him with all our hearts. We were friends with our son and liked spending time with him. So while we were overjoyed he had found the love of his life, we knew we would miss having him around.

When he got married it was a little lonely at home, but we soon found out that we didn't always have to be the mature parents anymore. And that was fun. For the first time since 1980 we were on our own and we found ourselves back in that newly married, irresponsible time of life. One night we had popcorn and ice cream for dinner. We stayed up late and watched movies. We didn't always pick up after ourselves.

Something else started to happen. We also re-discovered our newly married closeness. We talked more and started dating in a way we did when we started our life together. We caught up with each other. With kids at home the topics of conversation centered around the kids. Now, even though we still worried about our children, we had more time to talk about our dreams and goals. We told some of our stories to each other. We fell in love in a whole new, deeper way.

We not only got to know each other again we became friends with our children in a new way. When we go out with them or have a family party it is especially sweet to catch up and hear about all their adventures. We are constantly amazed at how well they handle the problems in their lives and their wisdom and maturity. They are all truly remarkable people.

The biggest compensation for an empty nest is the joy of grandkids. Spending time and watching them grow brings back memories of our children in another time. Reading stories, doing crafts, bringing snacks and soft hugs and kisses from the children of our children are all priceless gifts.

When the birds fly away it can be sad to see their tail feathers head for the horizon, but new experiences and deepening bonds keep us fully engaged and ready for a new stage of life.

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