Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming soon: The empty nest

The living room resembles a loading dock.

It's wall-to-wall school supplies and stuff for Katie's dorm room at Brandeis. There's hardly any open floor space in the room; the spot under and around the piano has been occupied by Joe's hockey equipment since he came home in May.

I don't remember taking so many things when I went to college, but then again, times have changed.

Tomorrow is move-in day. (It's early because new undergraduates have orientation.)
On and off during Katie's senior year of high school, I talked, only half-jokingly, about the nervous breakdown I planned to have once she was gone. She is the last bird to fly from the nest. It was hard when Ben left, but I had two at home. It was hard when Joe left, but I had one.

Soon, it will just be me and the dog.

Joe leaves the week after Katie does, and then I'll really feel alone.

But I don't think the nervous breakdown will happen. While I was worrying all those months about her departure, I told myself that worry is a waste of time. I made myself stop, told myself to stay in the here and now, but eventually the thoughts returned.

Instead of worrying myself sick, I got sick of worrying.

The past couple of weeks, I found myself going with the flow, with the whirlwind of activity: the shopping, the planning, the talking, the little yellow stickies covered with reminders.

I thought about a Nora Ephron essay that resonated for me when a friend brought Ephron's newest collection to the hospital. (I remember lying in bed, cracking up over some of the essays in her book, "I Feel Bad About My Neck...and other thoughts on being a woman."

The essay I've been thinking of lately is "Parenting in Three Stages" and, in particular, "Stage Three: The Child is Gone."

It begins, "Oh, the drama of the empty nest. The anxiety. The apprehension. What will life be like? ... The day finally comes. Your child goes off to college. You wait for the melancholy. But before it strikes – before it even has time to strike – a shocking thing happens. Your child comes right back. The academic year in American colleges seems to consist of a series of short episodes of classroom attendance interrupted by long vacations."

I remembered this from Ben and Joe. When they're in college, they're not really gone.

But Ephron's thoughts on the topic don't end with college. College ends, and they're gone for good. She writes that you wonder what to do. Her answer: there is nothing, except, perhaps, getting a dog if you're nostalgic for the day-to-day activities of being a parent.

I guess I'm well-prepared, because I already have the dog.

Her essay takes us through the years after college, when the children visit:
"They are, amazingly, completely charming people. You can't believe you're lucky enough to know them. They make you laugh. They make you proud. You love them madly. They survived you. You survived them."

She continues that there's no point in dwelling on the past.

"There's no point. It's over.
"Except for the worrying.
"The worrying is forever."

Ah, there's that word again. I know it's true, because I worry about Ben, the one who's out of school. I'm sure that when the other two graduate from college, I'll continue worrying about them also.

But for now, I have my little worry-free zone.

Let's see how tomorrow goes.


pam said...

Bravo, Runder-Woman,

got chills throughout the piece! great line about forget about worrying -- as far as a Mother can!

still think that there has been a terrible mistake in calculation of Chronos at the Greenwich Mean Time!

Enjoy Maddie!

Meryl said...


Thanks for this great post as I vicariously experience the process of sending kids off. I'm definitely going to read Nora Ephron before it's my turn. You have been really strong and intelligent as you go through this with Katie and I'm sure both of you will do fine. If not, friends are very nearby, so call whenever you need to. Much love, Meryl

PJ said...

As usual, we are in the same boat, but it's a relative yacht compared to the leaky dingies we've been sailing.