Commentary: The empty nest
My younger son and his boyfriend moved out of the house last month, marking the end of a whopping 38- year continuous span in which I have had a child or children under my roof. When my older son was born, I was 27 years old; I am now 65. I have absolutely no memory of what it’s like to be in a childless home.
We, of course, want our children to grow up and move out and live their own lives, if not for our well-being, then for theirs. It is a rite of passage and, unless we adopt the traditional European model of multiple generations living under one roof, it is the way things are supposed to go. But when one has had progeny under his roof for twofifths of a century, there is some postpartum retooling to be done.
I knew I would miss having kids under my roof, but I didn’t realize how much. Son Number One (S1) has been out of the house for decades, but Son Number Two and his partner (S2+) are vivid and happy recent memories. They and their goofy, funny, brilliant friends trooped in and out of our house in an unending parade, eating our food, watching our TV, using our electricity and bivouacking on our couch or our guest bed or any other horizontal surface at hand, and I loved almost every minute of it.
They talked about the latest and best techno-nerd devices, movies and Reddit items and generally spoke in 21st-century terms I seldom understood but always enjoyed. And, because they are furries—recreational wearers of full-body animal suits—I would sometimes come home to find a living room full of fantastical and improbable wildlife lounging about (S2 and his partner are both foxes, but not foxes like you’ve ever seen).
In sum, I felt more like the housemother of a geeky fraternity than any sort of normal father. Throw in 24-hour tech support and there’s a lot to miss.
As would be expected, this filial desertion has wrought a variety of changes. In the area of noiseabatement, suffice it to say that the house is now very, very still. I sit in the living room and the only thing I can hear is the cat breathing. Our home economics are also in flux. When we straighten and clean the house, it stays straightened and cleaned. We run the washing machine and dishwasher one quarter as much as before, we buy half the groceries we used to, and based on the absence of the boys’ 24/7 NSAquality computers, we’re anticipating a measurable drop in our electric bill.
And finally, I find myself looking for replacements for the parenting I did—however minimal that may have been—when the boys were under my roof. This is evincing itself in bizarre and inappropriate ways, which I’m having to work hard to control.
I’ve resisted the urge to dress the dog in kid’s clothes, and last week I called the local school and started setting up a Parent Portal for the cat, but got a grip on myself and hung up before they got my name.
Another change is that we now have a room to repurpose. In a threebedroom house, this is an asset of no small value, and there are strong interests lobbying and jockeying for this space. The top two contenders are a sewing room for the wife and a repository for my collections, which currently reside in the basement. I suspect that the result will be a combination of the two, with a guest bed thrown in as a bonus.
Before any such decisions are acted upon, however, there’s work to be done because, of course, the room is not actually empty. Kids don’t just move everything out at once. They take the stuff they most want, and that which best fits the space into which they’re moving, and leave the rest. What to do with it? As sure as I throw something away, S2 will ask for it: “What did you do with that half-jar of chutney I left in my closet?”
It’s a dodgy familial question: When does a child’s room stop being that child’s room? If we had a large house, we could simply enshrine S2’s room, maybe even sealing the door, time-capsule-style. As attractive as that sounds, it’s not an option we have, so this week I will box up my son’s remaining possessions and put them in the garage. (For the record, I have his blessings in this endeavor. I think he’s relieved that I’m not making him do it.)
I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to get everything out of my parents’ house, but it was years, so I’m assuming this agglomeration will be displacing my car in the garage for a while, but it’s OK. I miss my son, and it will remind me of him and it will keep him coming back to retrieve things on an as-needed basis. And, if it takes him long enough, he can deal with my stuff at the same time.
Adam Granger lives in St. Anthony Park with his wife and dog, Molly, and is a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.