Road Trip: Part II – An Empty Nester Tries to Escape into the Scenery



The views outside the windows of my friend, Caroline’s, car are spectacular.

Ever changing landscapes that look like moonscapes so unusual are the rock formations that we are seeing at the place where the states of Arizona and Utah meet. The sandstone rocks have names like East Mitten and The Three Sisters and The Thumb. I study the brochure so I can distinguish between a butte, a mesa and a spire.

On Day 5 of our Road Trip we are visiting Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, a valley of shrubs and wind and underground aquifers and the iconic rock pinnacles that rise to 1,000 feet in the air from a valley that is already 5,564 above sea level. It is so very quiet here, off-season, only a few visitors; you can almost hear the wind whistle along the valley floor.

Caroline, who is a geography buff, talks about the forces of water and wind that created the rock formations millions of years ago.  No wonder the Navajo people revere this area.  I am filled with a sense of peace and contentment as I sit on a ledge with my face in the warm sun, overlooking the beautiful valley below.

Then my cell phone rings.

I knew it couldn’t last. I recognize the number, one which I am intimately familiar. It is my son, calling no doubt to tell me of some new problem that he needs me to solve. Right now. He struggles with his mental health. While I am sympathetic, often empathetic and love my son deeply, please know that – there are times – and this is one of them  – when I feel heavily weighed upon by his neediness.

I’m on vacation, I want to shout into the phone. Call your father, I want to tell him. (and then feel  guilty because my wonderful husband is at his DC office while I am the one getting to enjoy this amazing Road Trip from DC to Los Angeles with one of my oldest friends.)

I hesitate, then I pick up my phone, which I had turned on for photo-taking purposes only. A minute into the call, just as my son is getting ready to unload on me (I hear it in his voice), the call fails. Thank you to the cell phone gods for the very spotty service here in this remote rural area!

How ironic is it that even in this most ancient and peaceful place the real world intrudes. We can go on vacation to far away places but no matter where we are, the concerns we left behind follow us. I knew that but still naively thought that for a few days at least, I could escape into the scenery.

Tomorrow we head to a place where I will also be greatly needed.  Caroline and I are volunteering at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a 3,000 acre animal rehab and rescue center in southern Utah.  When we signed up for our shift at Dogtown, I had visions of sitting on the grass cuddling adorable puppies ready to be adopted. Or taking sweet older dogs on walks through the canyon trails. Caroline thinks instead that we may be asked to fold laundry or clean out dog crates. I am hoping Caroline is wrong.

Even if you are not a dog person, you have to admit that being needed by an animal is a joyful experience. You are nice to them and they love you back. Their needs are uncomplicated and easy to satisfy.

And if you are a parent, you remember, as I do, how when your kids were young how intensely they needed you. I loved that feeling of being the center of their world when they were little. I welcomed their demands and their insistence that I pay attention to them.

But as I relish my empty nester years, I am happy not to be needed so much.

After all I did to get to this stage of life, I feel, selfishly I admit, that I now deserve some “me” time. Realistically though that doesn’t always happen even when our nests empty out. If it isn’t our adult kids seeking our attention, then we have the demands of caring for our elderly parents. Most of my friends are pulled by their adult kids or their aging parents or both.  “Me” time can be very hard to come by.

So I consider myself lucky to be able – right now, this early spring, at my age (I just qualified for a senior lifetime pass to the U.S. National Park system, in case you were wondering) to have both the energy and the time to go on a Road Trip.

When my cell phone rings again, as it no doubt will, and given my son’s impeccable timing, he will likely call just as we are driving through the Mojave Desert in California, I will try to see it not as a burden.

Being needed is a gift, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.





Filed under Adult Kids, Empty Nest, Family, Female Friends, Parenting, Travel, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

17 responses to “Road Trip: Part II – An Empty Nester Tries to Escape into the Scenery

  1. I love your honesty, Nancy!


  2. Nancy, Lovely post so many will resonate with! I’m so glad you had a get-away. Brava for writing and moments of freedom! Sara Taber

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Cindy O

    Nancy you life mirrors mine in so many ways. It seems every time I went on vacation I would get “that call” and my heart would sink when I saw that phone number. I wept as I read this post and as I read you last sentence it really rang a bell with me. Just two days ago my son called me and poured out his pain and said “he couldn’t take it any more”. I felt the same way.
    But I know being a Mom is forever and I am always needed for him to be able to call me. Although it makes me feel “how did I go wrong in raising my son?” I accept it is was it is and I’m here for him….until death us do part. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with but knowing that I am needed and I was chosen by God to be his Mother makes it ok.
    Thank you for your words…..they came to me at a perfect time.


    • Cindy, it is so hard to get those phone calls, isn’t it? Just know that you have always tried your best to be there. Hope it goes more smoothly for both of us.
      Glad to have you as a reader, Nancy


  4. Tanya

    Thank you for sharing your insightful and amusing stories. Enjoy the test of your roadtrip!


    • Tanya, we had a great Road Trip but I have to say I nearly kissed the ground at Dulles airport when I got back to DC. I may start another blog called “The Reluctant Traveler” but no one would read it!! Glad to have you as a reader. Nancy


  5. memorten

    Nance, your portrayals and descriptions are great! I can see you in the car and the phone ringing I hope you had a spectacular trip!! I feel as tho in finally keeping up with you, rather than the drops and re-engagements that have been our history. Love reading your posts!
    Mary in ATL


  6. Patricia Flanagan Rizzo

    I could have written this post. I remember walking through EPCOT and getting a call from my (adult) son wanting to know where his socks were. I also deal with my 93 year old mother who still lives in her house. Issues seem to be similar–autism and old age. Thought processes are disrupted and need attention constantly. Guilt for wanting “me” time is a constant companion.


    • Yup, Patricia – no “me” time for the weary caught between old age and young adults kids with “issues” but I keep trying to carve it out. It isn’t easy. Glad to have you as a reader! Nancy


  7. I hope you post about the rest of your trip and your walking puppies not folding towels! I think the cycle is you are gone and suddenly there is urgency yet when you are home sometimes it appears weeks pass smoothly. Maybe, maybe not but I love your honesty!


  8. Jane Lawniczak

    Thank you so much for your blog You sum it up so well. I am grateful to you to put into words how it feels. Our youngest is 20 w issues & my in laws have dementia. To top it off we both work in education full time. Exhausted Jane (57) & husband (60)

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Ah yes, young adult kids with “issues” and in-laws w/ dementia. Hit from both sides! I’m glad to have you as a reader – you sound like you are in a similar place, Jane. Would love to hear more about your work in education. Nancy


  9. I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through this. Between grown kids, grandkids and mom I feel as if I never have 2 minutes to myself that’s why I get up at 4 am every day just to get those few precious hours alone. I was supposed to do a cross-country trip in September, but I am starting to see that it’s not going to happen this year. I just can’t leave momma for two weeks. I feel as if someone is always chasing me with a net. I would love to get in the car and just drive but like you the cell would be ringing off the hook. One day I’ll hit the open road again I just gotta believe! Thanks for sharing your trip with us.


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