Life After Birthday Parties

Photo of an empty bird's nest perched in the branches of a tree

Today’s article was written by Change Coach Kelly O’Connell


It all started when I crammed my daughter, her dorm gear, and my game face into my sedan and drove the short 45 minutes to Salve Regina University. After a nervous and quite prolonged drop-off, I headed home. When I turned the last corner toward my house, there it was, her blue Beetle bug in the driveway. But Maddie wasn’t home.


I dragged myself and the pit in my stomach through the front door and upstairs toward my bedroom. I cleared the last step, looked down, and saw Henry, our black lab sitting outside Maddie’s door, whining to be let in.


How could he do that to me?


I threw myself on my bed and sobbed uncontrollably. In a worthy effort to distract myself, I went for a walk (cried), emptied the dishwasher (cried) played Bananagrams (cried), climbed into the pool for a swim. (You actually can’t cry underwater. Who knew?) Toweled myself off (cried). You get the idea.


So, I called my brother. “I just dropped Maddie off, I’m really sad. Is that normal?” My brother assured me that it was and said that it would probably last a couple of weeks. A COUPLE OF WEEKS? I guess fathers are different. It took me two years to finally realize that there was, in fact, life after birthday parties.


Motherhood, the mother of all roles…little people dependent on you for everything. ALL THE TIME. Thoughts around mothering filled up most of the hours of each day. It was WHO I WAS. So, when I saw Henry with his sad puppy eyes looking up at me with the “where did she go” look, I lost it.


But who was I really? A mother was just the part I played in the O’Connell Family Action Saga. During my life, I wore many other costumes as well. Daughter, Sister, Business Owner, Yoga Teacher, Wife. What makes up who we are? It can’t be any of those roles. How could it be? Life and all the parts we play change constantly, over moments, over decades. Who we really are is something permanent, infinite, and whole. When I came to understand that, the sadness of shifting from party planning parent to empty nester dissolved.


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