ENS (Empty Nest Syndrome)
ENS — Empty Nest Syndrome
So, they’re all gone now. The doors to their rooms are closed. The quilts are as flat on the beds now as they were two months ago after the last one left. No rumples from balled-up pajamas, no dents from books or CD cases, no piles of magazines, no piles of clothes. We’ve finally run out of plastic shopping bags owing to the infrequent trips to the grocery store. And less food — definitely less food. So, this is the Empty Nest Syndrome. I’ve heard about it, of course, but here it finally is. Halleluiah!
Not that I don’t dearly love each of my darling children, I do. I am lucky to have had such wonderful human beings in my life every single blessed day for the last 24 years. Annie, the eldest, went off to California to mine career gold like an early 49er. Justine’s path took her to Arizona and grad school. Christopher, my baby, was the last one out of the nest and headed to Boston. How proud I am of them. How amazing they are. How nice that they are gone!
I had some indication of how this time might look before they left. While the girls were at school they were gone for weeks at a time, sometimes a whole summer. Chris spent a few summers in Maine with my parents to work at the local ice cream stand. These were trial periods for us, a chance to experience a child-free home. They were gone, but not really, because there was still the occasional phone call or weekend visit home. In June, as if to remind us of what we’d be missing, they all came home. All were here 24/7, living, parking their cars, watching TV, working — sometimes — and needing special foods (or just more food). It was a large, loud, chaotic familial summer camp. I was the counselor, and Angelo was the director — which meant he stayed in the office upstairs issuing memos on appropriate behavior (“I really think a curfew should be enforced”). I managed the day-to-day activities (“Okay kids, time for the wienie roast!”).
Then, in September, they were gone.
The first week after they left, I couldn’t go straight home from work. The Rite Aid drugstore held an almost magnetic draw for me; I discovered I needed various important hair products and office supplies before turning into the now-empty driveway. The crucial brain acuity I needed to mentally, almost psychically, keep track of each child’s whereabouts was no longer necessary.
So, I became stupid. I couldn’t process the simplest bit of information without hours of concentration.
“Do you want to rent a movie tonight, Cindy?”
“What? Why are you tormenting me with these riddles?!”
Time held no meaning. I didn’t need to be home at any certain hour to fix meals, provide transportation, or just be there. I wasn’t necessary for anything. Maybe the cat still needed me to feed her and let her out, but she could wait, and wait . . . and wait.
Once, a very long time ago, I read a submission to the “Life in These United States” section of Reader’s Digest. I must have been only about twelve, but I remember it to this day. It went something like this: The wife and husband stand on the front porch, watching their last child drive off to college. The wife turns to the husband and says wistfully, “Well, hon, you’re all I’ve got left.” The husband turns back to the wife and says, “Hon, I’m all you started with.”
God knows why it stuck with me, especially since it didn’t mean anything to me at age twelve, but I’ve remembered it ever since. The difference for me is that the husband I have now isn’t the one I started out with pre-children. We met mid-children. We became a family when his daughter and my daughter were sixteen and my son was eleven. Our empty nest is a first-time experience for us. We met and negotiated and blended years ago and our relationship grew only after soccer practices, chorus, college visits, and visitation schedules.
Then, suddenly, we were all we had. It was a little dicey there for a couple of weeks. To be honest, Angelo became as stupid as I did. It took time to adjust to just being with each other without all those other distractions. Anything we wanted to impart had better been imparted, because now it’s time to watch as our children move forward with their own lives. And here we are — all alone in our empty nest without the ties of children to bind us together.
Did I mention Halleluiah?
Excerpt from Flip-Flops After 50: And Other Thoughts On Aging I Remembered to Write Down published by She Writes Press 2014