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My kitchen is spotless. There isn’t one dish in the sink or a crumb to be found. In fact, I haven’t been to the grocery store in days.

The television is idle, and the pillows sit on the couch, exactly where they are supposed to be.

It’s 5 p.m., and it’s quiet. The laundry room doesn’t produce the familiar round-the-clock hum, and there are no feet stomping up and down the stairs.

I haven’t used the dishwasher in four days.

I skim through a magazine while the dog sits at my feet, both of us wondering when my husband will arrive home. I’ve filled my day with work and exercise and chores, but I look forward to some company.

This is not the norm for me. I am the mother of three active tweens/teens, and our typical life is complete chaos. My home is usually filled with scores of kids from the basement to the bedrooms. There are hair ties on every counter and smelly athletic gear scattered throughout the house. There are usually piles of paper and laundry and dishes in every room.

But not this week.

For the first time in nearly 14 years, all three of my daughters are out of the house at the same time enjoying themselves at sleepaway camp.

I’m experiencing the first taste of the empty nest, and it’s bittersweet.

My house is clean, but also achingly quiet. My time is my own, yet I miss the conversations I usually hold in the car each day. I am extremely productive, yet find myself wandering around my empty house, wondering what my children are doing at that same moment.

I keep myself busy, yet I also feel lost. I find myself face-to-face with a reality I’m not quite ready to accept, a life that is racing toward me at the velocity of a high-speed train.

I’m living my future, and it’s a heavy weight to bear.

Life somehow carries on when my children aren’t around, yet the house seems too big and the silence deafening.

My husband and I enjoy long dinners and take walks and watch a movie without ever needing to pause so we can pick up a child from a friend’s home or fix the WiFi or take someone to practice. It’s good to know we still function as a couple instead of only Mom and Dad.

This school year was tough, an emotional roller coaster for all involved. There were days I was so proud of my kids I thought I would burst, and then there would be a dip so low I felt we would never recover. In the middle there were moments I was dizzy with exhaustion and joy and frustration and stress and “Do I really have to figure out what to make for dinner again?”

This week, however, while a weight was lifted from the all-consuming stress of raising tweens and teens, there was also a giant void of emptiness I’m not ready to face. I don’t necessarily miss the pandemonium that comes with my three girls, but I certainly miss them.

I miss the laughter in my hallways and the sarcasm at my breakfast table. I miss the conversations in my minivan and the late-night whispers in their bedrooms. I miss the hugs from long, gangly arms and the music that’s always too loud and the shouts of hello coming through my front door.

I miss the pieces of my heart who are sleeping two hours away.

What I found this week is that I can both love the feeling when they are home with me, and the feeling when they are away. And while I’m not ready to push my baby birds out of the nest for good, I have hope I can find a new life when they are ready to soar on their own.

So, I take the quiet to reflect on the joy they are having while away from our home, and I take a moment to experience gratitude for what will come back to me soon.

Because the pieces of my heart may return to me later this week, but they were never mine to keep.

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.

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