My Empty Nest by Jennifer Hamm

I have four sons. I am their full-time mom. This line makes me laugh – as if there’s a ‘part-time’ mom role available? For 25 years I have lived my life consciously and sometimes subconsciously making this decision. Every day, until my eyes close shut at night, these boys have ruled my universe. If I’m honest, it took having four to finally succumb to wearing the full-time mom badge proudly. I come from a generation of lucky women who were seemingly able to have it all, and many of us thought we actually could. Some even appeared to achieve it. A career and motherhood were not only possible, but it was also, in some circles, expected. But for me, I found that doing the mom job to the best of my abilities didn’t leave a lot of room for anything else.

I am a writer, so writing when the day allowed was always right there for me. But writing a full sentence…ha! I remember once setting up TV drama writers’ meetings within the Hollywood studio system. I had worked long and hard for my three spec scripts and I was getting a great response. I was in the parking lot of a big executive head’s office furiously pumping and storing my breast milk in a freezer bag, praying it would still be good for my sixth-month-old that I left behind five days ago in London. I walked into that boardroom, nailed the interview, and was asked about my availability. What game was I playing, I thought to myself. The validation game? My availability? I was a full-time mom who got up at least twice in the night at that point if I was lucky, had leaky breasts underneath my cashmere exterior, and had the wildest idea that I could add TV writer to my day during nap time.

The demands of motherhood are real. You must be present and also plan; you must have energy and never get sick otherwise literally the entire household doesn’t function; you must pivot and multi-task, and your time is definitely not your own. So how to have a career in writing while raising my boys escaped me. We lived between London and LA and my way of finding time to write was to combine journaling with blogging. I wrote about the mundane of our adventures with a little zest, and other mothers thanked me for telling what felt like their stories too. It was weekly at first, until it was monthly, but what I realized was that as present as I was, I enjoyed taking a step back and observing even more. Boys rumble tumble like cubs and only their dad played in those games as well. But I’d watch. Laugh. Listen. My favorite feeling would come from a moment where we’d all be skiing down the mountain, the four of them in front of me, and I’d trail behind like a proud peacock. Watching, wishing, praying (no one would fall) and heart full.

Writing a novel was something I never dreamed I could actually do. Sitting with one story long enough felt almost impossible for my brain’s bandwidth. I couldn’t remember what my English dissertation in college was about but I could tell you how many ounces my baby drank the whole of last week. The hierarchy of our brain resorts to a needs-must situation when child rearing – I learned that when I had to do research for an article. I couldn’t find a more appropriate title than ‘Why My Brain Has Turned to Mush’. But then my friend told me about Darren Hardy’s 90 minutes philosophy of production. If you take 90 minutes every day and only do one thing, just one, turn off the rest of the world including your phone, email, internet, and of course the need to do your laundry, and just do that one thing, you will be incredibly productive. So, I tried it, and a year later I had my first draft of my novel.

It’s not a surprise to me that after the years it took to write a final draft of the book, it is being published just months after my final son flies the coop. That’s the cosmos smiling down on me for sure. Today, with boys-to-men as my children, my thoughts aren’t about sacrifices or efforts made. The validation I was in search of during some of that time is so clearly given to me, every day, by my sons. The ache in my heart today is about my haven, those birds I sat upon, nurtured, loved, and became great friends with, are all going to be off and flying in two months’ time. My little one, standing now at 6’4, is a senior in high school staring at the finish line. He’s so excited, as am I. Oh, but the ache in my heart.

People talk about empty-nesting as a verb, something that you ‘do’. “It’s like dating your partner again,” “It’s lonely and you now need to get a new purpose,” “It’s divorce time.” I’m blessed, my husband and I are solid and in love after all these years. I have my writing and can sit long enough now to formulate the entire sentence. But… well, the ‘but’ comes from how this stage of life actually makes me feel. My life for all these years has been filled with triumphs and failures, big and small, that were visceral and that touched every sense, every single day. The first mushed banana eaten, the scraped knee, first words, tears from laughing, little moments of glory and trepidation, quiet cuddles, watching four souls develop from the inside out. My body clock, the amount I cook at dinner time, how quickly I race around to be back at home – all of these simple, physical things are reminders of my daily rhythms that revolved around my boys. Preparing for it is important, sure, but how does one shift a need you didn’t even realize you had? The need to be in the same room, to read someone’s face not through Facetime, feel their emotional lives without words – the being together part. I’d settle for living in the same city. When your birds fly, they actually can fly to the other side of the world.

I’m not used to recalibrating my entire day to my own sense of time and space without coming in contact with one of my sons. I don’t even care what they come home for – food, reassurance, chats, even laundry. Their physical presence in my life is all I know as an adult, and it’s been my life force, I suppose. Even when I used to hide in my closet just to get away from them for just ten minutes, they were always there on the other side of the room, waiting for me. Often knocking loudly. It’s easy to hide when you know someone is wanting to find you.

So, I sit today in the discomfort of this enormous milestone in my boys’ and my life. I shy away from the word ‘empty’ because that makes me feel lost. And I’m not lost, I’m just uncomfortable. And vulnerable. I guess that is why everyone speaks to preparing for this moment way ahead of time, so you’ve got what to fill the space with. David Hockney talks about the idea that ‘space is God’ and that resonates with me. That the space left is not there just to be filled, but to be observed, felt, understood. That these great shifts in our lives can be met with confidence and openness for the adventure ahead, and the sanctuaries we created are as much a part of us, whether they are full, or not.


Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jennifer Hamm graduated with a BA in English at UCLA and began her writing career developing screenplays for movies and television. As a travel writer, she has covered the globe on assignment for various magazines and brands. She also writes It’s Only for A Year, a long-running blog chronicling her adventures raising her four boys in two countries. Hamm currently splits her time between London and Los Angeles. Friday in Napa is her first novel.  ONE FRIDAY IN NAPA (August 29, She Writes Press) a story for fans of The Paper Palace and centers on a mother-daughter relationship spanning decades. With her personal experience and this book, along with her blog writing about raising four sons (see below my signature for more) Jennifer’s writing is saturated with the knowledge of what it is to be a mother.




Post a Comment