At Large : We couldn't miss them till they were gone
We're having a trial empty nest. That means, they're gone, but they'll be back, to visit, to spend a little time. Home is still home base. We hear from friends that, times being what they are, kids do sometimes move back home. One woman I met in the market said her daughter had taken an Island job, and that might be good for her new employer. "She'll shake things up. She's a pistol." She said it delightedly, but I noticed a nervous flicker. The pistol had moved back into her old room, and there might be some shaking up to come at home.
In our house, before it was just us, there were years of cruelly early mornings, late night reviews of essays and lab reports, telephones ringing non-stop, hysteria when the family printer wouldn't work or when the Internet crashed, worry about late weekend nights. There was driving them to and from summer jobs, those JCrew catalogues left open as hints, the arguments about haircuts and skirt length, music that I hate blasting every morning and evening, pans hanging in the kitchen clanging to the thumping of the bass, and on and on. Now, it's a text from two or three time zones away.
"Dad, would you look at this paper on Buddhism. I'll email it in an hour, but I have to turn it in in about an hour and a half, so send it right back after you've edited it." I know nothing about Buddhism, so I'll be flying blind, and besides it's 10 pm in my time zone, and that's bedtime.
The other sort of communication is a text message, sent somewhere around one am our time: "luv u used the c card 4 lift tic hop u don mind" To me, when bad grammar is combined with getting touched for $50 by someone who never answers her phone, only texts and emails, someone who is schussing around at some resort while I'm cleaning gutters so the melting foot of snow combined with the frigid rain won't flood the cellar, it almost makes you wish you had the beloveds near at hand where you could have a conversation.
So, the nest may be empty, but they're with us in spirit.
When the mountaineer went to Europe as an exchange student we asked her to email or call as soon as she was safely in the company of her host family. Days went by. No call. No email. We were just beginning to search for the chaperone's overseas phone number, or the email address of Interpol when she called. Everything was fine. The flight was tiresome, but the hosts were lovely, their house nice, and the food great. We forgot all the instructions we had planned to pronounce, and breathed happy sighs of relief. Please email often. We didn't hear from her until she arrived at Logan.
On the other hand, when the two boys traveled together, their techno interest led them to Internet cafes, so we got emails. We had no easy way to reach them, didn't even know where they might go. Their itinerary was serendipitous. They didn't know where they were going, so how could we? We hoped they would have adventures, not life-threatening ones, but interesting, educational ones, the sort that extend horizons. Their emails revealed that they were repeatedly lost. They even drove by mistake through an open-air pedestrian marketplace scattering frightened natives hither and thither. They went skiing. How can they be skiing, we asked ourselves? We asked them, too, but they didn't answer. Skiing is worrisome because the older brother has been known to suggest that the younger try such stunts as sticking his tongue out and touching it to the frozen frame of the chairlift. And the younger has given it a try. Our emails were full of cautionary suggestions, but who knows if they read them.
So, for Moll and me, the nest is not really empty. There are the dogs, who have instinctively recognized a change in the music of our household. They've stepped up to the challenge. That seems to mean filling the empty hours with requests for treats and walks. They figure that if we miss the kids, perhaps we'll shift our affection for the absent children to the ever-present dog members of the family. Love the ones you're with, that's their view.
There's a lot written about empty nesters like us, and all of it is encouraging in a hollow-sounding sort of way. For instance, I found this on a web site with the rather sepulchral name "troubledwith.com": "When children grow up and move out, parents face an extreme sense of loss and change in identity. Being pro-active about the transition can move you toward acceptance of this new season of life. It's a great time to rediscover your spouse. Exciting possibilities accompany the second half of life."
Among the possibilities we've discovered is that, even though the kids have left, we still get up early to get them to school. After several mornings when we prepared their lunches, hollered for them to hurry, and had the car started and warming in the driveway, we discovered the possibility that they were actually not at home. We found ourselves seated speechlessly in the sunroom, dressed for the drive down-Island, but with nowhere to go. We found ourselves discovering that the first thing we thought to talk about was, what were those kids up to. (In fact, it was a silly subject. Had we given it a moment's thought, we would have realized that in their current time zones, the sun had not risen, nor had they.) She texted me at 1 am, one of us might say. He texted to say he'd call in the evening, but didn't. I suppose he had a rave to go to. I suppose she lost her phone from the chairlift. (Don't laugh, her phones have dropped down street drains, bounced off boyfriends, and, yes, fallen into snowfields below chairlifts.)
But time marches on. We've gone hours without a thought for any of them. We've discovered the possibility of having dinner in bed, or not having dinner at all. We've gathered to watch 24, together with both dogs on the bed with us. We've begun to talk more about the dogs and the current economic downturn, on which they have nothing to say. We've adjusted to our left-behind status.