Preparing for life as an Empty Nester (and hoping for an occasional text from my kids)

This weekend I have the whole house to myself. Our elder daughter Rachel is a college freshman and our younger daughter Emily (who apparently really admires her dad – who knew?) is with my wife this weekend, visiting the college she’ll be enrolling in next fall. For the past few days, it’s been eerily quiet in the house – and eerily tidy. It’s weird to walk into my bathroom and not see my daughter’s curling iron, dirty towels and jars of makeup, eye liner, and moisturizing creams piled up in my sink. I barely recognize the kitchen now because there are no stacks of dirty dishes covering every square inch of the counter. 

This got me to thinking about next fall, when for the first time in 19 years, there will be no kids in our house. We’ll be joining the ranks of a rapidly growing demographic: Happy People (otherwise known as “Empty Nesters”). Many couples look forward to this phase of life. But for me, it’s going to be a difficult adjustment. So I took time this weekend to look at old photo albums and watch old family videos.  It brought back wonderful memories of many happy times with our daughters. 

Like the 1,284 times I changed our daughters’ diapers when they were young (which, according to my rough estimate, is approximately 1,284 more times than my father changed his own kids’ diapers when we were young). 

Or, speaking of diapers,  the time I was lying on the bed holding our baby Emily over my head, staring into her eyes as she beamed an innocent smile, right before she had a volcanic eruption of poop. Now, of course, that would not have been a problem had she been wearing diapers under her pajamas. Unfortunately, however, someone (my wife Michele’s name is being withheld to protect her identity) accidentally neglected to put diapers on her. Someday, perhaps years from now, when I have forgiven my wife, I no doubt will laugh about this. 

Or the time Rachel, then three, decided to help her daddy water the house plants by hauling our garden hose into the house, then proceeding to water the house plants… and the living room carpet …and the wood-stained floors… and her sister’s diaper… and the TV… and the cat. 

Or the time Emmy, age five, decided she wanted to give herself a new hairstyle and cut off all the hair on the left side of her head. We had to shave off the other half so that people wouldn’t think she was being raised by drug-addled Goth punkers. Then strangers complimented us on our cute son. 

Or the time, Rachel, age eight, was learning to throw a baseball and decided that the perfect time to play catch with daddy was while he had his back to her, shaving in the bathroom. Her wild pitch ended up shattering our bathroom mirror. But I have to say, I was impressed by her form. Pretty sure it was a split finger curve ball. 

Or the time, when Emily was nine, that I taught her to ride a bicycle. Every dad treasures this moment. I remember proudly watching my little angel as I shoved her off and yelled, “Keep pedaling. You’re doing great!!!” just before she veered sharply right, screaming in terror, and smashed into our neighbor’s tree. She barely needed seven stitches, but the experience somehow traumatized her about getting back on a bike for several years. Even more tragically, the tree is still in therapy. 

Or the time I took Rachel golfing for the very first time on a real golf course. I remember it so well. We went to the driving range to warm up. She reached for her driver, which was stuck in her golf bag. When she finally pried it out, the club head slammed into her forehead – resulting in a severe concussion. We never did make it to the first tee, but the accident spared her from the even deeper emotional scars of actually playing golf (which I know only too well). So it all worked out. 

Or the many times over the past ten years I counseled Emily about ways to organize her bedroom more efficiently. Her room at the best of times resembled a village after a Tsunami. We would often engage in delightful banter as she would “evaluate” [translation: “ignore”] my suggestions about ways to remove articles of dirty clothing and three-week old pasta to make it possible to actually see the dirt on the carpet; and then I would cheerily remind her who paid for this house and inquire how she planned to pay for college on her own. 

Or the proud day when Rachel, age 16, earned her learner’s permit, and we celebrated by having her drive me home from the DMV test center. It was a lovely summer day. I remember it so well, especially the somewhat abrupt ending to our drive, when Rachel smashed my car into a landscaping rock as she pulled into our driveway. That was $1,400 in repairs that I will never forget. Ah, precious memories. 

I am going to miss my girls next fall when it’s just me and Michele alone in the house. Our lives just won’t be the same without their laughter, smiles, and text messages at 12:15am on a Saturday night saying “I need a ride home from Alice’s house NOW!” 

I can’t believe that, in just a few months, my little girls will be leading their lives on their own and will no longer be under our roof – or on top of our roof, as we scream and wave at them not to move until the fire department arrives with a ladder. 

I will do my best to adjust to my quieter life. I’m trying to force myself to look forward to next September, when Michele and I are all alone again. I just might have to call my kids now and then, perhaps from the deck of a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean…with my own private bathroom and with not a single piece of my daughter’s dirty underwear in the sink. 

My wife and I will miss them dearly. But we’ll just have to manage on our own…to pay for their college tuition, housing, meals and cell phone bills. 

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

PS:  If you enjoyed this week’s post, please let me know by sharing it on Facebook, posting a comment or giving it a.  I regret to inform you that once my daughters are both off to college, I will have even more time to dedicate to this column. And for that, I deeply apologize. 

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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  • Published On Apr. 25, 2013 by TEJ

    1. 4/26/13

      I can’t believe any of those stories of raising the girls. According to your blogs – those years where blissful, accident free and charming. Unless I missed (those few and of course very widely spaced issues ) during the last 3 years of the blog reading.
      My empty nesters friends now tell me that the kids leaving home causes more stress on the parents when they are actually living there. Why haven’t they called – today?… How dare that boyfriend dump them for some tramp…. What? they didn’t get their chosen job making 100K a year …. How come they are out of money again? … Are they really going to move home for the summer? Ask any parent and the trials and tribulations of parenting goes on and on.
      But how would I know. I missed all of that and instead had a blissful, accident free and charming life without all the fond memories of being a parent. Sigh!

    2. Drew Fisher

      For most of my life, Tim, I was able to assess my parental dimension by quoting Keith Olbermann: “I’m still my only child.” For cute parenting stories, I had to go all the way back to my own childhood. Poor Emily clearly relates to my own experience at age nine, when my mother was embarrassed that I did not yet know how to ride a bicycle. She cajoled one of my friends into coming over to our house with his bike, upon which my mother seated me, and which she gave a mighty push across our lawn. I continued across the sidewalk, across the street between moving cars, back across the street between moving cars, and into the side of a parked car. As I lay on the street, bleeding, my mother came running up, yelling, “LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO HIS BIKE!” When this story is told today, my mother is always the one laughing hardest. At any rate, I no longer have to resort to stories of my own childhood. At the age of 67, I married a beautiful woman with two fine sons. Excuse me, but I have to go out and buy more food.

    3. 4/26/13

      Dear Tim

      Lovely words indeed.
      Perhaps it has already been mentioned, but they always come back.
      Not a problem in general, but the timing tends to be just awful.
      Have you ever had your car refuse to start at a convenient time?
      I know you and Michele will do wonderful.
      Just never close both eyes at the same time.

    4. Betsy Jones

      Beautiful memories. Keep up the positive attitude about being an empty nester. Truth is – it sucks. But, as we learned in Parenthood when the gambling adult son returns home to connive his dad for money, parenting is never really over. So there is hope that they will come back and you can create more memories.

    5. Donna

      Being an empty nester is wonderful. But they do come back. That kinda sucks. At least so far, it’s the nice child that returned, eventhough he gave up a full scholarship after three years at a prestigious university, because he wasn’t feeling it, UGH! We are downsizing so the ‘evil daughter’ can’t come back. LOL.

    6. Mike Jones

      Oh how your words resonate with me as my wife and I, and my father in law assist our twenty-year-old daughter in her desperate last-minute scramble to secure a place to live for her third year at university. When I say ‘assist’ I use the word in its broadest terms, as in we’re doing everything! Rest assured your chicks never seem to fully fly the nest, I sometimes wonder when our darling daughter finds the time to study between visits, socialising, and posting pictures of herself drinking in bars I could never afford to frequent! Enjoy the empty nest while it lasts!!

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