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From that bright and shiny moment when you first hold your child, you know the day is coming when you’ll have to let go.

It’s the yin and yang of parenthood, how the pride you feel for their independence is a part of the pain you feel when your paths diverge.

“When each of my girls left home I couldn’t go into their bedrooms,” said Dee Blakely. “As long as I didn’t see that empty room or talk about it, I was OK.”

“I do remember when each one of my three sons moved out,” said Veronica Lenzini. “I cried a lot, each time, but after a few weeks, I adjusted. You definitely have to work through it.

For Dee and Greg Blakely of Carbondale, the timing could have been better. Their two daughters, Emily and Amelia, moved out on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2014, respectively.

Emily wanted to live on her own during her last two years at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Amelia, 15, was bound for Sweden as a Rotary exchange student.

“I was really nervous watching Amelia get on that plane,” Dee said. “In the course of a few weeks, we had gone from a house full of kids and their friends to just the two of us.”

For Veronica and Peter Lenzini of Carterville, it was less an exodus and more of a peeling away, one son at a time. Alec, the oldest, left for SIU. Then middle son Anthony left for Parkland College in Champaign. And finally, in 2014, their youngest, Cameron, left for SIU.

And while Veronica was alternatively inconsolable and unfocused after each parting, she was eventually absolutely delighted at how things turned out.

“Peter and I spent 15 years traveling with three boys playing sports year round,” she said. “A whole new world opened up for us. Finally, no more football on Friday nights! We could go out to a dinner, or get off of work on Friday, get our jammies on and watch a movie.”

Dee, who describes herself as “more emotional,” channeled a lot of her anxious energy into finishing her dissertation, and took no small amount of comfort in the tremendous growth she was able to chart in both her girls.

“Toward the end of Amelia’s time in Sweden, she could navigate around the country, she understood the culture and the language. She had adapted,” Dee said. “She had a phenomenal experience and made some lifelong friends. And ironically, she hit a growth spurt and came back nearly four inches taller.”

Amelia lives in Carbondale now and is attending SIU. Emily was married last year and has three stepchildren; her family lives in Anna and she works at The Southern Illinoisan.

“I’m proud of both of my girls,” Dee said. “That’s what you want, to have independent, productive, happy, adult children.

Veronica says she’s adjusted to a “different phase of life,” one that includes impromptu trips with Peter, and plenty of visits with each of their boys and their growing families. 

Anthony is newly married to Becca and is moving from Chicago to St. Louis soon to be closer to home. Alec is married to Chelsea; they have one daughter and a baby due in March.

“We have a new relationship with our children now; we have a lot of fun together,” she said. “At least once a month, we go to Alec and Chelsea’s home in Highland, or to Anthony and Becca’s in Chicago.”

Cameron has moved back home (into the basement apartment) since he graduated from SIU and got a job that involves a lot of traveling.

“Sometimes he’s gone three or four weeks at a time,” Veronica said. “So, it was a more economical arrangement for him. And because he’s gone so much, I still consider Peter and I empty-nesters.”

Of course, the older boys love coming to Southern Illinois to visit (and to do a little hunting with Dad and little brother). But the best part of the journey so far says Veronica, is Peyton, her 18-month-old granddaughter.

“The grandparent thing is wonderful! I absolutely love it,” Veronica said. “It’s everything they say it is. Grandparents get to have all of the fun!”

Veronica and Peter are having a great time, catching up on all of the fun they missed having as a couple, while they were Mom and Dad.

“We’ll jump in the Jeep and go to the wineries, catch a Cardinals game, swim and boat for the day at a friend’s place on the lake,” she said. “When your kids are all home, sometimes you don’t think you can’t have fun unless your kids are with you. Once they move out, you have to get used to doing things and having fun as a couple again.”

According to Veronica, it’s quite a pleasant, ongoing process.

Dee and Greg agree, flying their “empty-nester” flag proudly. But Dee has taken it one step further. Determined to have as much fun as possible, she has decided to do a few things she might not have had time for when she was raising two active girls. She started by declaring a year of cake.

Yes, you read it right.

“Right before New Year’s Day 2016, Emily and I were taking down the tree,” Dee said. “She asked what my New Year’s resolutions were. ‘If you could do anything that you wanted, Mom, what would you do?’ she asked. I thought about it for a minute and said, ‘I’d like to do 52 weeks of cake!’

“It was a lot of fun, really, every week,” Dee said. “I wrote down every recipe, took pictures of every cake, and made a cookbook for my kids and myself. And my work family loved it because they got 52 different kinds of leftover cake.”

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