Now that I’ve been sitting in empty nest for four months, I’m filling it with rocks. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Though it’s not easy, either. I heard a story once about purpose that went something like this. You have a jar, and you want to put some rocks and some sand in it. If you put the sand in first, you will never get those rocks into the jar. But if you put the rocks in first, you can pour the sand in, and it will just slip around the rocks. Everything will fit.

In this story, the jar is your life, and the really important things are the big rocks. The sand is the other stuff that fills out your days. The point is to make sure you are putting the important things first. Otherwise, the little stuff can take over. You can end up with just a pile of sand at the end of the day.

Let’s face it. If you are a parent, you always feel like there’s just a pile of sand at the end of the day. So you did the laundry. And you picked up ten bags of groceries at the store, which included a cup of coffee to make it through the afternoon. Then you did homework help. Then you fill in the blank here. But even though it may not feel like it, that’s all still one big fat rock.

You’re parenting.

I have more space and time in my schedule than I ever did in my entire life. Except maybe when I was five. But even then, there was so much tree climbing and fitting puzzles together to fill the day. Since becoming a parent, it seemed that the days became fuller by the year. But now, my parenting is very hands-free. I pay college bills. I talk with my son when he has time. When he comes home for a holiday, I cook for him and we spend some time together as a family.

But the mornings in which I made Gabe tea and chatted with him before he left for school are now spent alone. I cook some for my husband and myself in the evening, but not as much. We eat a lot of take-out and prepared foods. The laundry loads have now been cut by about half.

Which means I have a lot of extra time on my hands.

I’ve had to resist the following things to fill the space:

  • Surfing petfinder.com to adopt a second dog;
  • Taking in an exchange student;
  • Getting a part-time job, just to get out of the house.

I’m not saying I won’t do any of those things. But the big rocks have to come first. And these are the things I’ve decided are most important:

  • Time for friends and family (more lunches, more phone calls, more dates with hubby);
  • Publishing the novels I’ve written but are lodged in my laptop (one went out in December, more to come);
  • Spending time with Miss Maggie (going to the dog park is fun socializing for both of us).

Empty nest is a transition. And transitions are uncomfortable. I often wish I could just jump into something brightly new right now. I admit to wasting hours on petfinder.com. I saw some really cute dogs there that I hope somebody adopts. But not me; not now. I have some writing to do and some lunches to schedule.

Yet the rock that I still cherish most in my empty nest is knowing I am a parent to our son. It’s different; there is an entirely new rhythm to our relationship. We don’t have daily contact except on holidays. But I love it that he is growing and filling out his life in new ways. A mentor of mine once told me that Gabe is an echo of my heart. I can’t think of a better description of the love a parent has for her child. My empty nest is filled with treasures.

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With her newly reconfigured nest, Cynthia Yoder is filling her days with writing, books and clients who come to see her for business or writing advice. Her forthcoming novel, Mennonite on the Edge: An Unlikely Romance, will be published this fall. She authored one of the first ever Mennonite memoirs, Crazy Quilt: Pieces of a Mennonite Life, in 2003. The book is a love story and a journey back home to her Pennsylvania Dutch roots. (The Kindle version will be released in 2016.) Her book, Divine Purpose: Find the Passion Within, helps readers find passion in work and play. Yoder’s writings have appeared in New Jersey Monthly, Mothering and the short story collection, Just Moms. She and her husband live in New Jersey, where she now dotes upon Maggie, their maltese-poodle and plays too many hashtag games.

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