Feathering an Empty Nest

By Kay Hollyday Filar

For as long as I have known my husband, almost 47 years, the passing of our lives has been measured by a school calendar. That is because for all those years – from the time we met in college through retirement last October – one or both of us worked in a setting linked to the academic year. And probably one of the most challenging years we have experienced was that of 2002-03.

It began in August around my 50th birthday, a milestone I was determined for months before to take in stride. I had been preparing myself for an upcoming empty nest as our youngest child made plans for college in the fall. Kaitlyn, a fine student and the setter of her very successful volleyball teams, had been recruited to play at the collegiate level.

After visiting a variety of schools and having lived most of her life in a tiny town just blocks from a small liberal arts college, Kaitlyn was ready for a big-time university experience. A place where she could take courses as far-ranging as sports psychology and Swahili, and where every team – from intramural to varsity – provided exciting competition in a festive atmosphere. Kaitlyn couldn’t wait to become a University of Georgia Bulldog!

The only complication was that in July husband John had been contacted about a new job while we were vacationing at North Litchfield Beach. He reluctantly had given up coaching Davidson College’s women’s basketball team the year before over disagreements with the athletic director. Fortunately he had found a position that he was enjoying as Dean of Students and girls’ basketball coach at a nearby independent high school.

The offer was for an assistant coach at a large state university – the kind of position he often had wondered about since leaving Davidson. The job sounded super . . . except for the fact that it was in Lincoln, Nebraska!

That phone call led John to reconsider giving up his college coaching clipboard. After much discussion and prayer, we both concluded that he needed to take this job so he could figure out what he truly wanted to do.

After dropping Kaitlyn off at UGA for her volleyball preseason, we pulled into a South Carolina rest stop. John called the head coach to accept the position and agreed to be there the day after my birthday. We also had decided that I would remain in Davidson for fall term, just to be sure Kaitlyn had a good start, and then join John in Lincoln after the first of the year.

A little farther up I-85, we made a quick stop in Greenville to let son Travis know about our decision. He was working at his alma mater, Furman University, and anticipating his wedding the next summer. Thankfully, my being involved with some planning and participating in several prenuptial events for that special celebration would help to keep my spirits high in everyone’s absence.

Finally, a few days after my birthday, I found myself hugging son Jesse goodbye in the parking lot of Bed Bath & Beyond. Three years out of high school, Jesse had been on a circuitous route to his future that included almost attending Davidson as a student/soccer athlete, installing irrigation systems, and taking courses at UNC-Charlotte and Cape Fear Community College. Now, after buying some student necessities, he was returning for his second semester to Elon University.

As if the radio had sensed my feelings, Stevie Nicks’ song “Landslide” began playing while I watched Jesse drive off in his red Jeep Cherokee. I sang these words with tears running down my cheeks:

“Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life? . . .

Well I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But times make you bolder

Children get older and I’m getting older too”

So began my empty-nest year, with only our 100-pound Golden Retriever Kodi to keep me company. And what a perfect companion he was! We shared long walks along Lake Norman, blankets in front of the gas fireplace on December nights without power, and bites from my hit-or-miss culinary dabbling.

I tried to make the best of the situation by becoming more involved in church ministries, College activities and book club reading and discussions. I reconnected with old friends, kept a gratitude journal and strummed on my nearly forgotten guitar. Jesse and I had Thanksgiving dinner with Travis and his future in-laws in Birmingham, Alabama, and were warmly welcomed into their family football game.

I spent memorable weekends in Athens and Lincoln, savoring cafeteria food that was a far cry from my college days and getting lost in the intricate and colorful creations of quilt and art museums. I watched TV reruns in John’s converted Howard Johnson efficiency apartment and Harry Potter in Kaitlyn’s cramped dorm room bunk bed. I met the Bulldog and Cornhusker mascots, preferring the slobbery licks from Uga over Lil Red’s creepy antics. I tried my first (and last) runza, a unique Midwestern pocket sandwich with a filling resembling canned cat food and devoured Cracker Barrel comfort food before a roaring fire, a respite from the brain-freezing cold of Nebraska’s plains.

Somehow we all made it through that very long and enlightening year. John realized that Nebraska was not where he wanted to be, and the rest of us were relieved. He was grateful for the chance to pursue a dream, but ready to return to high school. Travis had a beautiful wedding to which Jesse and Kaitlyn invited those who would later become their spouses. And I learned, in true “Landslide” fashion, that my extremely empty nest was also the ideal opportunity to spread my own wings and fly!

About this writer

  • Kay Hollyday Filar

    Kay Hollyday Filar

    Kay Hollyday Filar retired after 22 years as department assistant in chemistry and art for Davidson College, and now works part-time as a church parish administrator. Since her move to Pawleys Island, she is loving life near the beach, spending more time reading, writing, and deepening family, friend and spiritual relationships.

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